Gauging Gage: Referees are people too

Story by Gage Johnson

Sports Editor

gjohnson17@murraystate.edu

Recently I worked at an AAU basketball tournament in Paducah, Kentucky, covering teams that were there while keeping stats and running scoreboards. I left the event early, but upon returning the next morning, I was alerted of some disturbing news.

During the final game of the day on Friday, April 5, Kenny Culp – a 60 year old referee – was brutally attacked by a head coach after a disagreement in a call that was made.

The two were arguing about a call Culp had made, but once Culp turned around to walk away, Kenyon Menifield – an AAU team’s head coach – hit him in the head, knocking him unconscious.

Culp was admitted to Vanderbilt Hospital, diagnosed with a broken collarbone, a brain bleed, a concussion and suffered damage to his right eye.

Menifield attempted to flee the scene but was later found at a local hotel. The 40 year old has since been charged with assault, according to the McCracken County Sheriff’s department.

Players and coaches across the state that knew Culp have reached out to offer their condolences.  The incident has been spread all over social media, hoping to reach people and show them that this not acceptable under any circumstance.

What’s sad about this situation is that things like this have been happening to officials for years.

For instance, let’s take a look back at the former Detroit Tigers pitcher Andres Galarraga’s near-perfect game.

However, even the best can make mistakes. This is why baseball and multiple other sports have incorporated replay challenges.

Before that call, Joyce had recently been voted upon as the best umpire in the MLB.

Seven months after the call, Joyce met with ESPN and talked about how the backlash affected him mentally, and detailed the countless angry messages and mail sent to him and his family because of the call. This is just one example of a direct message that was sent to his daughter on Facebook.

“One message threatens to burn her family’s home; another wishes her AIDS. Jim’s son, Jimmy, receives death threats, too,” Amy K. Nelson of ESPN wrote.

And we wonder why officials are harder to come by now.

Another example is the call that eventually changed how we view catching a football.

A 13-yard pass from the Rams’ then quarterback Shaun King was caught by the receiver, but upon review was ruled incomplete. Despite the receiver being in complete control of the ball, the call was overturned because of the ball grazing the ground while in his hands.

Bill Carollo, a 20-year NFL referee and the current Director of Officials for the Big Ten conference, made the call and was met with a lot of hatred from fans.

Carollo told Deadspin he was sent death threats and received over 200 phone calls to his unlisted home phone number after the controversial call at the end of the 1999 NFC Championship. He also said people were so upset about the call that he had to pull his children from school.

Officiating numbers have declined rapidly this year because of the sheer fact that they don’t feel safe. The National Association of Sports Officials recently conducted a survey which found that 47 percent of the 12,800 male referees surveyed felt unsafe or feared for their safety while officiating.

From  the  1,000 female respondents, 44 percent said they also feared for their safety when officiating games.

Just read over those statistics again. That is absurd. Not one referee should be worried about their safety, nevertheless 47 or 44 percent of them.

I understand being competitive and wanting to win – I’m extremely competitive myself – but people have to realize at the end of the day, it is just a game.

Before even realizing that it’s just a game, we have to realize that it is impossible to get every single call in a game correct no matter what sport it is. Just ask Auburn.

In an opportunity for Auburn to gain possession of the ball in the final seconds, the referees failed to call a double-dribble on Virginia. In the ensuing possession, Auburn  fouled Virginia’s Kyle Guy on a three-point attempt to send him to the line. Guy made all three free throws, sending the Cavaliers to the NCAA Championship game and leaving the Tigers heartbroken.

The difference between all of the examples, is that Auburn handled adversity the right way. They didn’t confront the referees, and have made it clear that missed calls are just part of the game.

The controversial no double-dribble call was a huge topic of conversation on Twitter and other social media outlets, with many calling out the officials for missing the call. Auburn Head Coach Bruce Pearl took to ESPN’s “Get Up” to address the situation.

I think Hannah Montana said it best… “Nobody’s perfect.”

In all seriousness, referees aren’t perfect. Calls will always be missed. If a referee went through and watched a game they officiated and said, “I didn’t miss any calls,” he or she would be lying.

I’d like to emphasize a few points.

First, put yourself in their shoes. Do you truly believe there’s no chance that you could ever miss a call? If you really think you could do a better job, do it yourself.

Not long ago, the Murray State News published an article about how referee numbers were declining because of safety concerns. We interviewed Theresia Wynns, the Director of Sports and Officials for the National Federation of State High School Associations in Indianapolis, Indiana, and I think she said it best.

“They [spectators, players and coaches] have to realize they can’t play those games without having licensed officials,” Wynns said.

Second, think before saying anything to referees. Officials are trying to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. Not to mention the majority of the time they are officiating multiple games. Would you want someone spewing profanities or threatening harm to you?

Lastly, I can’t stress this enough: it’s just a game people. Sports were made to have fun. If that’s not what we’re playing or watching it for, I don’t know why we have them. Pay attention to the sportsmanship videos people play before games. They shouldn’t have to be played, but clearly some people need to see them.

Family and friends have taken to Facebook to update people on Culp’s well-being over the last few days. According to close friends, he is in good spirits and is able to sit up and talk.

As we all know, medical costs are not cheap by any means. A GoFundMe has been started to help Culp and his family cover his medical costs.

If you would like to donate to the cause click on the following link:

https://www.gofundme.com/high-school-referee-kenny-culp?pc=&rcid=r01-155474587343-b5965c72d8d048fd