June 20, 2013
By Nathan Deen
FORT BENNING, Ga., (June 19, 2013) For officials, one strike and you're out.
As sports fans, we like to think we know it all.
We like to think we know more than that ESPN analyst who makes a six-figure salary.
And as far as officials go -- well, it was clear to us from 300 feet away that pitch was out of the strike zone.
But when I started looking behind the scenes at the lives of officials, I came to realize how much I didn't know.
Strangely, the most important thing I learned was that these guys are human beings -- something they hide pretty well when they wear a uniform.
I've been at Fort Benning for more than two years, and if I had a dollar for every time I've gone out to a game and heard, "Hey, when are you going to put us in the paper?" from one of the officials, I'd have a week's worth of wages.
When I pull out my camera, I also hear stuff like, "Hey, make sure you get my good side." You've probably only seen officials working games, so you might be surprised that most of them have a sense of humor.
For more than two years, the same officials kept asking when I was going to do a story on them. There's an old saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. "OK," I said a couple of months ago. "You got it."
Most of these officials do high school or college games as well, but they don't treat Soldiers as second-class citizens, nor do they treat intramurals as a bottom-of-the-line gig or just a way to make a little extra money. In fact, all three of the officials I interviewed for my story are or have been Soldiers themselves.
And they're not exempt from the harassment of spectators, either. One thing I've noticed is that no matter what level of sports you're talking about, fans are passionate and ruthless when the calls aren't going their way.
Fort Benning official Derek Binion gave into a grumbling high school coach one time who thought his team wasn't getting enough calls. Binion called a handcheck on a player from the other team -- and he knew right away it was the wrong call.
He made a mistake. Unfortunately, some mistakes will decide the outcome of a ball game.
Officials make mistakes and we don't tolerate them or forgive. When we think back to why our team lost the game, that blown call in the fourth quarter comes to mind first. Maybe there's more humanity in officials than there is in sports fans.