It goes without saying that match officials of any stripes – but particularly soccer referees – will, at some point in their careers, face abusive behavior. This abuse can come from various sources, including players, coaches, parents and/or fans. It occurs in low level games, even those involving kids, and at the highest levels. Abuse can take many forms such as offensive language, veiled and explicit threats and physical assaults resulting in injuries and even deaths. Sadly, such abusive behavior is becoming more common place than we would like to admit and major leagues and soccer governing organizations would like to acknowledge. Facing little or no support from their local, regional or even national referee organizations, many referees believe that such abuse is simply part of their job description and “deal” with it on their own or simply accept it. AND THEY SHOULD NOT!
Unfortunately, by remaining silent about the abuse faced regularly by referees at their games, Major League Soccer perpetuates the perception that the referee abuse is acceptable. We found one such example in a recent MLS game.
The game between Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas was refereed by Hilario Grajeda. The whole incident began in the 15th minute of the game when Kyle Beckerman’s teammate, Kenny Mansally, committed a serious foul play on FC Dallas' Jackson and referee Grajeda was about to send off the offender. At this point, Beckerman became very animated and aggressively argued with Mr. Grajeda that the red card was not warranted. But Beckerman’s argument had no chance of succeeding and Mr. Grajeda was absolutely right about dismissing Mansally for committing a serious foul play offense. What’s more troubling, however, is Beckerman’s use of extremely offensive language and his hostile/threatening attitude towards Mr. Grajeda.
In the video, you could clearly hear Beckerman’s expletive-laced speech and dropping of “f-bombs” after every other word he uttered. (See 1:45 into the match highlights below)
The fact that Beckermann’s extremely offensive language did not even make the announcers flinch, or make any sort of news, or elicit any disciplinary action from MLS Disciplinary Committee only serves to re-enforce our point that the problem of referee abuse is so widespread that it no longer shocks or causes outrage. BUT IT SHOULD!
MLS Disciplinary Committee’s Mission Statement is to “[t]o preserve the integrity and reputation of the game and Major League Soccer.” Is this the kind of behavior that MLS thinks preserves the integrity and reputation of the game and/or MLS? We think not. But, as of this writing, no disciplinary action was taken against Beckerman.
As an old saying goes: actions speak louder than words. If MLS is serious about the integrity and reputation of the game, it cannot stay silent on the sidelines while match officials are getting abused and disrespected. Their silence simply encourages this kind of behavior. What’s more, given the level of the game and the league’s ever increasing reach, those watching the games may come to the conclusion that this is what is acceptable at soccer games and emulate this kind of behavior at their local games. This rot must be stopped! And it must begin at the highest level of the game. We think that it’s about time for MLS to step in and actually do something meaningful to preserve the integrity and reputation of the game.
We, as referees, however, must play a role as well. To begin with, Law 12 of the Laws of the Game compells and gives referees the power to send-off players who are "using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures." So let’s agree that the use of "f-bombs" and other expletives towards referees while arguing against their decisions qualifies as "offensive, insulting or abusive" language and therefore is not acceptable. This means that this kind of behavior MUST be punished with a send-off. No exceptions! And Beckerman should have been dismissed! In fact, we were puzzled and dismayed that Mr. Grejada did not show Beckerman the proverbial door. After all, having made an excellent call and correctly decided to dismiss Mansally, referee Grajeda should have been outraged by Beckerman’s conduct.
He did not deserve to be on the receiving end of Beckerman’s foul mouth.
He did not deserve it then and no referee deserves it ever!