Recently a football official came under criticism for being overzealous when penalizing a team for "excessive celebration" in the end zone after making a touchdown. What wasn't clear was why he decided to penalize this team as the player who made the touchdown pointed one finger toward the sky commemorating his teammate who had died earlier that week. I've watched the video repeatedly and I just can't justify the official's actions. It was the rule, it was right but the most important question of the three we use to decide if it was right was did it fit the game? It didn't. Period.
I was the crew chief on a crew of a Division II college game that was playing on a Saturday. I had read in the newspaper that the team traveling six hours from Miami had found one of the teammates dead in her dorm room bed on Friday. I was waiting for a call from my assignor that would request that this game be canceled. To my surprise, the call never came. I arrived at the game and during warm ups, we noticed that this team had made commemorative patches with the number of their fallen teammate written on masking tape and taped the sleeves of their uniform. One of the other referees from my crew, asked what I was going to do because by rule, I was to assess a technical foul for illegal uniforms. I answered, "Nothing, absolutely nothing."
I really thought in my head, pray, pray for the family of their teammate, the teammates, the coach, the program, the school and any of her friends. How does a team, pull themselves together to play a game during such a storm of loss. They were strong in the first half but it was clear that their heads were somewhere else in the second half when they got beaten pretty badly. The wound was too fresh. If I had followed the rule in black and white, I would have added salt to the wound. On this day, I followed two other rules. The first one was elastic jurisdiction is granted to the Referee of a crew when a particular rule is gray or doesn't apply. In my heart, I knew there was no rule that addressed the emotional things teams do IMMEDIATELY after a death of a team member. And in my heart I knew that I could look myself in the mirror and do the right thing, if I followed the second rule with my heart and my head. Rule number two...Compassion.
Compassion is never scorned, judged or mocked. This is what the football referee should have shown that night when a teammate pointed his tiny finger toward a big sky to make a big statement in a small way. A way of compassion.