I tried being a basketball referee at one time. I was a provisional licensee while I was still in college, and took a couple of turns at officiating jayvee games. Two was enough. I’m not cut out for it. There is nothing a ref can do which is correct. Everything is questioned, sometimes vociferously. After the first couple of objections it turns personal and nasty. I decided then and there that I would stick to being a trainer for our college basketball team. There was little I could do which was questioned. I preferred that.
The point of it all is that a referee or umpire has to make a call, and (he) has to stand by his call unless (in Red Sox fashion) his fellow referees meet to overturn the call. That’s pretty unusual. But the point is (and always has been) that a referee has to call what he sees. Not what he wishes he saw. Not what he may or may not have seen. The call has to be definitive.
A word to describe the referee’s decision is that what he saw and what he called is ostensibly the truth. There’s no other way to get there. If every call is questioned and put up for a vote, the role of the referee is diluted. That makes for a lousy game.
That is the thinking which is about to be brought before the public in the new rules which are being written for Major League Baseball. Starting in the Spring, the use of television play-backs will be permitted for most of the calls an umpire makes. Not all of them, but most of them. If there is some question about the accuracy of the call, the umpires will gather around the television set and watch a play-back of the situation. That will determine whether or not the umpire got it right.
I’m all for full disclosure, and there are times that I wish that we could see the play over again, as I thought the umpire/referee got it wrong. But that’s not how the game is played. Ostensibly, what the official calls is, for all practical purposes, the truth. The basis understanding is that the official had a good line of vision, was focused on the play, and could see things that the general public might not have access to. There has been a degree of trust placed in the officials, and the assumption is that the official is not biased and is only concerned about telling the truth.
Ostensibly…for all intents and purposes… the officials run the game. It remains to be seen just how that will play itself out when the TV camera takes over the position of authority. Not only will it slow the game down (who could have imagined that a MLB game could get any slower?) and the role of the officials will change dramatically.
Ostensibly is an adverb that means “outwardly appearing as such.” One online dictionary says that the word means “apparently or purportedly, but perhaps not actually.“ Do you detect the questionable nature of that definition? There may be some doubt as to the accuracy of the decision. “Apparently, purportedly, and perhaps not actually” are all terms that leave some doubt about the decision. It originates in Latin and French, meaning “to show.”
I suspect that the tentative meaning of the word will come more and more into play as the television play-back competes with the official’s call. I think I’m happy that I didn’t follow the route of becoming a professional official. If I want to get beaten up I’ll just go the Extreme Wrestling route. Not really.