In my job as sports editor, I spend a lot of time on the sidelines at different sporting events. It allows me to see the events from a different angle than other fans. More than that, I attend a lot of events where I don't have a child playing or coaching. Not having "a dog in the fight" really gives me a different perspective.
I see some athletes playing their hearts out and others playing half-heartedly. I see some (very few) coaches who take their jobs way too seriously and others who keep things in proper perspective. I see fans who are there to support their teams and others who are just there for social interaction. And I see the referees.
Referee is a job I wouldn't take on a bet. I've seen refs make mistakes. I've seen them miss calls. I've even seen some that I thought were not calling entirely fair. I've even seen some on a power trip. But the vast majority of refs I've watched are good, honest, family men who only want to do the best job they can. Without exception they are sports fans themselves who spend their breaks talking sports with anyone who wants to talk to them.
They pay good money to be trained for the job. They travel long distances for pay that won't put them on any "wealthiest people" list. They work in weather that sees a lot of fans giving up and leaving before the game is over. They deal with insect bites. They run up and down hardwood courts and grassy fields, watching closely for infractions as well as things done right, all while avoiding divots, slick spots, and fast-moving players who might pancake them. If they do fall or get knocked down, they deal with the pain as well as the embarrassment of laughter from the stands. All this while breathing air heavy with the odor of competitive athletes and fans who probably slept through high school hygiene class.
Referees also have to take a lot of abuse from fans and parents who feel that their favorite team or player has been slighted. I've heard refs insulted, cursed, and threatened. I've seen them hold their tempers when they have been called things that would make a reality show host blush. I've watched them take it from both sets of bleachers at the same time.
From my perspective, a few things have been made obvious over the years.
Number one: Are you ready for this? Most of the calls they make are fair and correct. Whereas most fans scan the field or watch only the ball or one particular player, refs are trained to watch one particular aspect of the action, while being mindful of many things surrounding that action, at every given moment. Not only that, but there are other refs working with them who are double-checking the calls. And schools and sports organizations won't rehire refs they truly don't feel are fair or competent.
Number two: They are, with very few exceptions, pleasant, happy people. They trot onto the field or court saying hi to friends, fans, athletes, and even sports writers and spend spare moments catching up on each others' lives, when they are not talking sports.
Number three: As I've already said, I wouldn't take that job on a bet and I daresay most other fans wouldn't either. It is a job, without which the sport couldn't be played, but one with few rewards and lots of pitfalls.
I leave you with a challenge. Next time you are at a game and your favorite player isn't playing, watch the refs. Watch where they look and what they see and the calls they make. I'll bet you come away with a different perspective too.