The story of the two Texas high school football players who deliberately delivered crushing hits on a referee who they say made a racial slur is a few weeks old now, but it’s still resonating and lingering nationwide.
Video of the play, which reportedly left the referee with a concussion, has been viewed more than 11 million times. An assistant coach linked to ordering the attack has resigned amid conflicting reports of what exactly happened in that fateful game.
It’s ugly from every angle. But at least one referee is urging this: Try to see the opportunity in the mess.
“That situation in Texas, while very unfortunate, should be a wake-up call to every coach and every official at every level,” said Eric Curry, a local college basketball referee who works games for the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Mountain West. “If we think for one second that the kids on teams and in the stands aren’t paying attention to what we do, we are making a huge mistake. I think the best way I can say it is this gives us all a chance to re-evaluate and say we have to be better for young people.”
Curry’s mentality is shaped by this specific instance but also is part of broader work he does with the Minnesota chapter of Positive Coaching Alliance, a national nonprofit group dedicated to improving experiences for those involved in youth sports.
Many of us think about that in terms of interactions between opposing players or between players and coaches, but Curry stresses that the relationship between officials and those playing or coaching games can have a major effect on potentially heated situations like the one in Texas.
“We represent authority. We represent rules,” Curry said. “We have to act properly and remind ourselves that there has to be rapport between the two sides. … The kids are taking a cue from the coaches on how they react to that situation, but at the same time it’s important for [officials] to handle those things the same way. They’re looking at us to bury the hatchet and move on.”
Curry was recently at a Pac-12 officials’ meetings, and the Texas situation was fresh on many referees’ minds.
“I have referee buddies from Texas, so we talked about it,” Curry said. “To a person, all of them are saying, ‘just when you think they aren’t watching, they all are.’ You have to be doing the things to make the game right. It’s a responsibility I embrace.”
After all, rivalries aren’t going to get less intense. Humans are going to make flawed decisions. But if there’s a way to defuse a situation, a potentially regrettable moment can instead become a positive teachable moment.
“That’s the wonderful opportunity that sports has,” Curry said.