Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Referees--Who Needs Them?

This is Mr. Weber's talk to students on Tuesday, September 25, 2012.

I don’t know if you’ve been following the controversy in the National Football League: The NFL referees are on strike, so they’ve imported “replacement referees” for the first three weeks of the season.  These are referees who come from much lesser leagues—lower than DI in college—and the speed and complexity of the NFL game is really beyond many of them. Each week, their refereeing seems to get worse and worse and people get angrier and angrier. Just ask a Packer's fan. 

In last night's game between Seattle and Green Bay,  Golden Tate, JPII class of 2007, went up for a jump ball with a Green Bay defender and the two of them landed in the end zone as time expired.  It appeared initially that the Green Bay defender had control of the ball for an interception, but the refs ruled simultaneous possession--touchdown Golden Tate, giving Seattle a 14-12 victory. It was an amazing play by Golden, but it was a controversial ruling. If you watch ESPN these next couple of days, you’ll see that play over and over again as pundits talk about how the NFL brand is being ruined by referees who aren’t up to par.  And because no one trusts the refs, almost every decision is mistrusted, every close call is challenged, everything is going to instant replay, slowing down the game. It’s a little hard to watch, really. One of the announcers, John Gruden, said that the game "left a bad taste in his mouth.”

There’s a parable in all this, I think. We need rules. We need someone to delineate “right” or “wrong,” and to speak plainly and confidently about those things.  As Americans, we tend to recoil against people telling us things are right or wrong, because we want to be "free". “Who are you to tell me—mind your own business!” is our kind of knee jerk reaction. But it turns out that when we reject rules, or when there is no one to adequately articulate them, or when we don't respect the people making them, the whole thing turns into a horrible mess.

A simple thought experiment:  If there were no traffic lights, no stop signs, no “rules of the road,” if it were every man for himself, would it take us shorter or longer to get where we're going?

Much slower, I think, because at every intersection, we’d have to negotiate with the other driver which of us had right of way. The fact that we have a mutual consensus that a green light means go allows us to confidently pass through without slowing down. By agreeing to rules, we are MORE free as drivers to get where we are going.

Just like the NFL, we need good referees.  We need institutions like the Church to articulate right from wrong. We need governments to establish principled positions and enforce laws consistently. If every decision, every action is subject to debate, life becomes intolerably contentious. We need God’s law to govern us, as seen through natural law and divine revelation. When we follow those laws, we are freer to be ourselves, more secure in our relationships with others, able to live fuller, happier lives. 

A wise rabbi once said: "Keep the commandments, and they will keep you.” 

No comments: