Helpful(?) Dissent

Roy, a U12 – U19 referee, asks:

An attacking player, feeling he was fouled, expressed his frustration with me (the referee of this U19 game) by talking with his fellow players – “he’s not calling anything.”
Does this rise to the level of dissent? This was a player already on a yellow card and someone with whom I had been talking all game long about not complaining to me about calls or non-calls.

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

OK, please don’t take this the wrong way but, you care about this why?  What is it about what was going on that you would feel justified in pulling a yellow card for dissent and then, perforce, showing a red card because the yellow card you just showed was the player’s second one of the game?  We are not asking these questions as an indication that we are about to tell you that you are all wrong about this and you should just “man up” about it.

Dissent is misconduct for a reason.  Publishing (i.e., making public) negative, argumentative, abrasive, disrespectful, derogatory, etc. comments directed at an official (Referee and/or ARs) is an insult to the game and to its long history of “gentlemanly” conduct upon which its Laws are based.  In the match, dissent which continues becomes insidiously pervasive to the detriment of the sort of communal trust which makes the sport enjoyable for its participants (including the members of the officiating team).  We think there should be and probably is widespread agreement regarding this.  And yet … there it is.

Sometimes you can see (and hear) it coming.  It may build slowly and incrementally until it crosses the line and becomes like the roaring sound of an approaching tornado.  Sometimes it just jumps out at you, full-blown, unexpected, and caustic enough to strip skin on first touch.  Are these inevitable end-points?  Only if left untouched or undiverted.  Rarely does dissent cease of its own volition because the very essence of dissent is “try war, not diplomacy.”

Was the player’s comment “he’s not calling anything” dissent?  Who’s the “he”?  You?  Did you automatically assume the “he” is you because of your history during the game of talking to him about his expressed unhappiness regarding your decisions?  Do you think the player expressing this opinion now to his teammates is an escalation of the situation?  Senior referees should already have been exposed to the “3 P” philosophy about dissent — the need to deal with dissent grows according to the degree to which it is or is becoming Personal, Public, and Provocative.

  • Personal – directed at an official by eye contact, by name, by nearness
  • Public — increasingly easily heard or seen by an increasing number of persons
  • Provocative – the specific content of the speech or the common interpretation of the nonverbal communication — e.g., wagging the finger versus “the finger”

How effective is any concrete act of warning about possible dissent watered down by repetition without retribution during the game?  Is running by you and suggesting that “you’re not calling anything” as a quiet aside more “dissentful” (a word we just made up to express the concept of a qualitative amount of dissent) than shouting it out loud in a stadium full of people or than saying it to some of the speaker’s teammates loudly enough that you and perhaps a few others could hear it?

At some point, the dissent virus begins to spread, which is exactly what you don’t want because, if you are at that point, you will either have lost control entirely or, alternately, it will take a huge amount of your professional resources to halt it.  Far better to kick the snowball apart at the top of the mountain than to be crushed by it at the bottom.

Oh, and by the way, get in the habit of listening carefully to what players are saying, even if it is disagreeable, because you might need to hear it even if you don’t like the manner of expression.