There was a big brouhaha in American football over the referees. Referees in any sport are subject to criticism and must have thick skins to do their jobs. But the referees who were officiating NFL games were replacements for the regular refs who are locked out during a labor dispute. The new refs walked into a firestorm. The replacement refs were drawn from the ranks of retired officials, college refs, and refs from other leagues. They have come under heavy criticism, to put it mildly, in the first weeks of the season as they scrambled to get up to speed, learn new rules and apply them in the midst of fast paced games in front of tens of thousands of spectators and millions more watching on TV.
One night the furor peaked over a call in the last seconds of Monday Night Football. With the game hanging on the last play, the quarterback threw the ball into the end zone as players for both teams reached for it and fell to the ground in a heap of arms and legs furiously fighting for the ball. Two officials ran up to the scrum. One official signaled a winning touchdown; the other signaled a losing interception.
Not a good situation to be in. A decision had to be made, and the touchdown was announced. The Internet and TV commentators were in an uproar.
Although I have an opinion, I’m not here to debate the correctness of that decision, or any other decision the refs have made this season. Like other fans, I have felt frustration and dismay over calls made and not made. But more than anything, I have felt tremendous compassion for these people, thrown into a situation they did not seek out, unprepared for the responsibility thrust upon them, struggling to do their best in front of millions, vilified by millions more.
Have you ever had a nightmare about being called upon to do something you are not prepared to do? I’ve dreamed that I have to take an exam for a class I didn’t know I was signed up for. Oh, yeah, and those dreams where we show up in public naked or otherwise dressed inappropriately. These refs were living that nightmare.
I don’t even have to look to my dreams. I have been in real life situations where I was in over my head. I’m thinking back now to when I was a young lawyer tagging along with more experienced lawyers to handle a negotiation for a multi-million dollar transaction. My job was pretty much to watch and learn. However, at one point in a meeting, I misunderstood something that was said to me and proceeded to do something so embarrassing (in a professional sense–I still had all my clothes on!) that I still cringe to think of it. To the other lawyers’ credit, they did not subject me to the sort of reprobation heaped upon these replacement refs. In fact, they quickly corrected my mistake and moved on with no comment.
It happens. Tony Dungy, a former Super Bowl winning coach and now a commentator, observed that while it is true that mistakes are being made by the replacement refs, nevertheless coaches and players must go ahead and play the game. You play the hand you’re dealt. You don’t blame the refs. Or the weather. Or the injuries. Or the alignment of the planets. You do your best with what you’ve got.
There were lots of folks screaming for the return of the regular refs. There were probably a few replacement refs wishing the same thing. At the least, I’m guessing those replacement refs wish they had had more time to get prepared. They probably wish they had had more NFL experience before having the whole country scrutinizing their every move.
We expend a lot of energy sometimes wanting things to be other than what they are. I’m still looking for more than 24 hours in a day, for example. And I’m really really wishing I had the old Blogger interface back. But there is wisdom in Tony Dungy’s words. We can rant all we want, but in the end we are left to play the hand we’re dealt.
Have you ever found yourself in over your head, needing to perform with inadequate preparation or experience? (If you are a parent, the answer is definitely yes!) What helped you get through it? Or perhaps you were on the other side, with more experience but having to deal with folks who were not up to speed. How did you handle that?
I hope you will share your own experiences with us.
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About the Author: Galen Pearl’s stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul and A Cup of Comfort anthologies, and her popular blog, 10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There), attracts thousands of readers every month. Recently retired from teaching law, she regularly leads retreats and workshops on developing habits to grow a joyful spirit. A Southern girl transplanted to the Pacific Northwest, she enjoys her five kids and two grandchildren, martial arts, her cabin in the mountains, and mahjong.