Saturday, March 17, 2012

One Does Not Speak Ill of the King

Last week, Chicago Bulls Superstar and CWS crush object Derrick Rose criticized the referees in the Bulls' game against the Knicks, saying:

“I gotta be the only superstar in the league that’s going through what I’m going through right now,” Rose said late Monday. “But I can’t say too much about it.”

As you can read in the above link, Rose was fined $25,000 for the remark. My heart doesn't exactly ache for him, as I know he's got the money to cover such a fine without blinking.

But I still think this is bullshit.

I understand that the NBA has an interest in protecting the image of integrity and fairness in the game. Indeed, the league is still living in the wake of Tim Donoghy. But when the league is going so far as to fine individual players for criticizing referees- especially in terms as gentle as Rose did- it's just coming off as paranoid, defensive, and honestly, counterproductive.

Let's start with this: I think everyone has a right to criticize the people who have power over them. That includes professional athletes, and at a certain point, no one has more power over them than the referees (or umpires, depending on what sport you're talking about). I think it's fine to put limits on this: people shouldn't be able to falsely accuse their bosses of a crime, and I'd have no problem fining players for alleging bribes, conspiracies, etc. But the basic right to question authority shouldn't be denied.

The other major leagues get this. The NFL provides teams a formal process to complain about a call and even get it reversed. The NHL has set up a "Situation Room" to make sure that the calls from the referees are correct during each game. And baseball has ritualized complaints against its umpires to such an extent that it's considered a legitimate tactic to psych up your team.

But in the NBA, players, coaches, and even owners are disciplined just for saying that the officiating was bad in a particular game. And that does nothing to enhance the NBA's image. Seriously, the cat is out of the bag on the refs. We all know that they're human and that they fuck up, and our mind isn't changed just because the players themselves don't complain. In fact, trying to silence the critics of the refs makes it seem MORE likely that the fix is in. Far from putting the specter of Donoghy out of our heads, the NBA is reminding us of him every time they punish a player for criticizing a ref.

It's always important to question how well the referees are doing their jobs. It's not even specific to the NBA in the wake of Donoghy. It should be constant goal in all sports at all times to get their officials as close to perfect as possible, and you're never gonna get all the way there, so we have to keep working. That means questions and criticism. And when the questions and criticisms are limited to the pundits who don't have as much skin in the game, we're not going to make any progress on that goal.


  1. I agree with you, but I'll play devil's advocate for a sec. You say players should allege conspiracy, but if Rose says he must be the only superstar in the league that doesn't get calls kind of doing that? He's not saying this official or this group of officials aren't giving him calls, but basically ALL officials.

  2. Good point. What I meant- and this is the failure of your humble blogger to communicate- by "conspiracy" was something intentional and directed, like a group of refs had gotten together and all agreed to not give Rose Superstar Calls. Something organized, I guess. Which, of course, Rose may have meant! It's hard to completely parse what he was saying, especially given his obvious frustration. But I took him to mean something a little less- not that anything was organized or directed, just that refs, for whatever reason, aren't treating him the way they'd treat LeBron, Kobe, etc.'s a damn fine line, isn't it? How "organized" are we talking? If a player says that Officiating Crew X has it out for him, does that trip the wires? I'm not sure, I'd need to think about it some more. So, even if I think Rose's particular comments fall on the right side of my hastily-thought-up-and-communicated-standard, that standard still needs a lot of defining.

    Two other notes: (1) if a player or coach or whatever can articulate a REAL conspiracy- or at least, one backed by enough evidence that we better look into it- I obviously don't think he should be punished. That's like, whistle-blower kind of stuff. I don't think Rose was doing that, though (and I think he's mistaken that he doesn't get "Superstar Calls".

    2) What's up with the NBA now that we EXPECT Superstar Calls?

    1. Yeah, the fact that "superstars" get more calls just because they are "superstars" has always been a bit backwards -- and is kind of a conspiracy in itself, right? So, in a way, DRose is complaining that there is a conspiracy going, but only complaining that he's not a part of it.

  3. PS- Thanks for commenting. Sorry posts haven't been advertised very well lately. I'm working on getting into a better rhythm.