I purposely intended not to write about the truly bad call made by Ed Hochuli in last Sunday’s Chargers/Broncos game, which cost the Chargers a win. I thought that the six thousand replays of that error on TV from Sunday night until Monday noon would make everyone realize how bad the error was. I thought that the reports on Monday morning that Ed Hochuli had gone to Norv Turner to say he had blown the call and was sorry about it would have taken the air out of the story. I was wrong…
Earlier today and more than 96 hours after the fact, I was out running some errands and turned the radio on to the local sports radio station. The topic of conversation was Ed Hochuli and his error and how he has spent the week getting hate e-mail messages from people around the country for his mistake. I thought that was bizarre enough until the show host took a call from some goober who said that Ed Hochuli deserved every hate message that he got because:
1. He cost the Chargers a win and
2. Ed Hochuli is a horrible referee who makes bad calls in every game he officiates.
That caller made me realize that I had to say what I think about all of this. So let me tell you from whence I come on this matter; I refereed basketball for 37 years; I refereed other sports too but none nearly as much as basketball. For about 12 years, I helped with clinics that taught young people how to go about refereeing games. I never did anything nearly as important nor as widely seen as even the most meaningless NFL game, but I do know what it means to be an official in a sporting event.
When I taught those classes for novice referees, I always began by telling them that there are two kinds of referees in the world. There are those who have made mistakes and there are those who are just about to. I told them to rid themselves of the notion that they would be perfect; they would not. I told them they had to recognize their mistakes and use them to get better at officiating and that they should never – ever! – do a make-up call because that is just taking one mistake and piling it on top of the other.
Ed Hochuli made a mistake. He blew his whistle way too fast; he did not let his brain process thoroughly what his eyes saw; he knows he made a mistake; he acknowledges he made a mistake; he is remorseful for his mistake.
Ladies and gentlemen, what the hell else would you have the man do?
Yes, he cost the Chargers a win; and yes, that could come back to haunt them in the final weeks when playoff berths are being handed out. That is certainly not a situation that the Chargers or the NFL would want to see play itself out; it is certainly not what Ed Hochuli would want to happen either. This is not a reason to send this man hate e-mail messages. Remember folks, these are, after all, games; these are not life and death combat despite the hyperbole used to describe the games.
If you think Ed Hochuli is a horrible referee who makes bad calls in every game he officiates, then you must also believe that the NFL is a cauldron of conspiracies. Ed Hochuli has been a football official for decades; he has been in the NFL for almost two decades; every game done by every official is taped and then reviewed by other officials after the fact. If Ed Hochuli – or any other official – made bad calls in every game, that official would not continue in the employ of the NFL. Not only has Ed Hochuli continued to be in the employ of the NFL, he has been promoted over the years from one of the minor officials to the status of referee and crew chief. He is anything but a horrible official so he does not merit hate e-mail messages on that basis. And by the way, if that caller made an important error on his job and that error became widely known, would he think that he merited hate e-mail messages? Somehow, I doubt that.
On top of all of this, Ed Hochuli came forward and publicly admitted his error, assumed full responsibility for what he did and apologized to the people who were hurt by his error. Think about other figures in the sporting world who have been caught doing wrong things – - some of them criminally wrong things – - and ask yourself how many of them were nearly as forthright as Ed Hochuli was. Compare his behavior after the fact to Mark McGwire testifying before the Congress or Roger Clemens’ throwing his wife under the bus with regard to steroid use or any random athlete run in by the gendarmes for drug possession/usage or an athlete who is charged with spousal abuse. Tell me who the truly contrite person is here and why he is the person receiving e-male hate messages.
In addition to his apology to Norv Turner immediately after the game, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Ed Hochuli has responded to many e-mails from Chargers’ fans saying, “I failed miserably.” On that one play and in that one situation he is absolutely correct; he failed miserably. Nevertheless, that does not make him a failure and it does not make him a person of evil who deserves hate messages. What’s next? A few death threats?
What Tim Donaghy did was evil and attacked the integrity of his sport. What Ed Hochuli did was blow a call. If you need me or anyone else to explain to you why one of those people is a significantly worse person than the other, then I doubt you would ever understand what I was trying to explain.
The very next caller on that sports radio show I tuned in to suggested that Ed Hochuli should be fired by the NFL for that call. Remember, every game is reviewed on tape. If the standard becomes that officials will be fired for making a bad call as a result of a human error, there will be no officials left to do the games. [There are two types of referees – those who have made mistakes and those who are just about to.] Moreover, here is something that fanboys all over the country need to recognize:
Without officials, there would be no NFL football games.
I want to leave you with a few comments from sports columnists regarding the ways that sports figures explain away their wrongdoings/bad decisions/errors of judgment and the way it ought to be done. Then go back and review what Ed Hochuli has done since the moment of his really bad call:
“Every baseball player who apologizes without explaining what he’s apologizing for should then apologize for his apology.” [Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle]
“Roger Clemens, under a steroids cloud, seen as a liar and accused of multiple affairs, including one with a 15-year-old girl, issued a generic apology for unspecified mistakes. You know things are going bad for a ballplayer when he even whiffs on the apology.” [Greg Cote, Miami Herald]
“Brad Miller is suspended five games for some kind of failed drug test and says, ‘I want to apologize to my family, teammates, fans and the entire Kings’ organization.’ Why do these apology statements always wind up sounding like Oscar acceptance speeches?” [Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle]
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…