Tuesday, May 20, 2008
To referees with love
Readers of other people's diaries (or "sinners" for short),
I come to you galvanized with inspiration. My own private "Eureka!" if you will. I know what I want to write about, to whom I want write, and how I want to write it. Sometimes us ex-college students who never bothered to graduate take a little bit longer to have the lightbulb flicker overhead, but I assure you what you're about to read is well worth reading. In fact, here are a few reviews inside my make-believe book jacket to pique your curiosity:"Conrad does it again! Whatever word is beyond 'genius,' that's what he is." -- USA Today
"I've noted many grumblings near and far about his lack of consistently delivering salacious bon mot, or 'the goods' for those who need a thesaurus, but Jimmy Conrad returns after a hefty hiatus in rare form." -- Entertainment Weekly
"If no pictures, me not like." -- Joe Cannon
So without further ado, I now present to you my less-than-novel idea of the open letter:
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN, specifically CENTER REFEREES, specifically KEVIN STOTT,
Let it be known that I'm unhappy with what transpired between us in a regular-season game against Toronto FC a few short weeks ago. To fill in the uneducated, i.e., your point of view, about the incident, it happened mere moments after Toronto FC midfielder Amado Guevara scored from an offside position in front of my teammate, Wizards goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, and the delirious Toronto fans to put his team up 1-0.
As we both know, the game moves very, very fast -- especially on watered down sports turf --and the initial reaction of Yours Truly, once Amado picked up the ball in an offside position, was that he was offside. However, I am familiar with the laws and bylaws of the game and the unfortunate new FIFA interpretation of the offside rule -- and I understood that when my fellow teammate tried to clear the ball and cleared it off another one of my teammates right into the path of the perfectly positioned Amado Guevara, that he was not offside. My argument, after processing the play in my head, was that he was in an offside position when Toronto FC defender Marvell Wynne tried to pass it in his direction thus negating the (un)lucky clearance and the goal.
I maneuvered my way through the maze of downtrodden Wizards and elated Toronto FC-ers to get an explanation from the sideline referee about what he saw and why he kept his flag down BUT on my way over, while using, I'll admit, a few choice expletives, you Mr. Kevin Stott proceeded to give me a yellow card for dissent. At this time I would like to discuss a couple of things working against you in this decision:
1. There is no possible way you or the sideline referee could hear what I was saying through the din of the joyous crowd.
2. It got back to me after the game that you were asked about my yellow card and why you gave it and you said, and I quote, "It wasn't for anything that [Conrad] said."
So then my question to you is: Why did you give it? For body language? Because I was in a position to MAYBE huff and puff and blow that house down? I looked up dissent in the dictionary to verify my own personal definition with what Webster and his dictionary cronies think, and the entry is as follows:
Dissent -- 1. To disagree with a widely held or majority opinion. 2. To refuse to conform to the authority, doctrines and practices of an established church.
3. To withhold assent or approval.
Hmm, that sounds about right. I mean, is it possible that I could disagree with 20,000 Toronto fans using my body? Do I look like a break-dancing mime to you? Or better yet, maybe you're a priest and through my bodily demeanor I somehow denounced your holy grail? Well, Archbishop Stott, in case you forgot, I'm the captain of my team and the natural presumption I have is that I get a little leeway in the "no talking to the ref" department because of my title. We do the coin toss together, we shake hands about 10 times, we take a photo, we share a little laugh and the first time I have, what I consider, a legitimate beef during the heat of battle, you give me a yellow card. Seriously? If you don't honor the timeworn tradition of the captain and the armband, what is the point of my wearing it when you ref a game? It clearly has no value.
Upon reflection, which includes countless deep breaths and moments of Zen, I watched the replay of Amado Guevara's first goal feeling quite confident that the video would validate my argument about Amado being initially offside when Marvell Wynne played it to him.
But as it turned out, I was wrong. My teammate Kerry Zavagnin poked the ball away from Marvell as he neared the top of our box and into the path of teammate Tyson Wahl, who cleared the ball into teammate Michael Harrington and right to the thankful Amado, who coolly slotted the ball into the back of the net. The sideline referee made the right call, a great call despite the number of bodies in his line of sight, and I'm sure he would have explained as much to me if I hadn't been stopped in my tracks by an unceremonious yellow card. A yellow card I get an automatic fine for, too, by the way, so a big "thank you" for that. So let's make a deal: How about the next time you issue me a yellow card for doing the electric boogaloo, could you please just kick me in the crotch, as well, just to round out the absurdity? Can we pinky swear on that?
Passive-aggressive melodrama aside, I understand that the courageous MLS referees who dare take the field with their flags and whistles to take abuse from fans, both coaches, the majority of the players and the media are very, very, VERY underpaid.
As a player, there are daily demands to consistently deliver a good performance, so when we step on the field for games that matter and we have to cede control to you and your flag-toting buddies, we expect a good performance, as well. Now I know we could argue at length that the winning team never has a problem with the refereeing and the losing team ALWAYS does, but moving past this point and on to what I'm trying to get to is this: We players have unlimited amounts of time to better ourselves with all of the tools (strength training, watching video, etc.) at our disposal without fear of putting food on the table (developmental players excluded), and for 95 percent of the referees in MLS being a referee is part-time and, most likely, a hobby -- a sick hobby if you ask me, but a hobby nonetheless -- and it will have to remain as such until you guys get paid better. And when you get paid better, you will be better and the league will be better for it. Until then, I think it's entirely unfair to hold the referees up to the standard that we as players and coaches are because this ISN'T your day job. I know you do something else to pay bills and save for the future, but that's not what is usually running through my head when we don't see eye-to-eye.
So I guess what I'm saying in a roundabout way is: I need to cut you some slack because I know you're doing the best you can with the resources you have, and in all honesty, despite my antics, I think you're doing a pretty good job. As a token of my appreciation, I'll even forgive you for issuing me the first body language yellow card in Major League Soccer history if you give Houston Dynamo midfielder Dwayne DeRosario one for his terrifying funky chicken dance after he scores. Based on your strict church-like views of bodily function, it only seems fair. Think about it.
Jimmy Conrad is a defender for the U.S. national team and Major League Soccer's Kansas City Wizards. He contributes regularly to ESPNsoccernet and can be reached at JimmyKnowsAll@gmail.com.