by Jaemark Tordecilla
Photo courtesy of Cesar Hernando
The unabashed sports writer behind the vehement and critical blog Fire Quinito debuts his first UNO piece that weighs in on the sports officials or, in his words, those ‘dastardly zebras in uniforms’
Referee Tim Donaghy rocked the sports world in July 2007 when he resigned from the National Basketball Association (NBA) amid reports that federal agents were investigating allegations on games he officiated. Donaghy had been an NBA referee for 13 years, officiating 772 regular-season and 20 playoff games, and the revelation that he was fixing games threw the NBA into red alert.
League commissioner David Stern quickly issued a statement saying that the Donaghy matter was an isolated case, but other observers weren’t quite so sure. United States congressman Bobby Rush, grandstanding as politicians are wont to do, called the issue potentially “the most damaging scandals in the history of American sports.”
Popular sportswriter Bill Simmons, for his part, devoted a whole column on the Donaghy scandal. Writing that the league is on a decline, Simmons declared, “We will never watch an NBA game the same way.”
Three and a half seasons later, the NBA is enjoying resurgence. The league has posted record ratings for 2010-2011 for American national television broadcasts on ESPN and TNT, thanks in large part to a top-heavy slate of contenders led by Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers, the two-time defending champions, and the Miami Heat, which features the All-Star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. The influx of young stars such as Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Blake Griffin have added luster to the league, whose talent level is at its highest since its ‘80s heyday.
Meanwhile, the Donaghy scandal, once touted as the sign of the apocalypse for the league, seems to have bowled over. The disgraced official was sentenced to 15 months in prison, and an additional three years of supervised release. He authored a book and contributed a column on the sports blog Deadspin.com during the 2010 playoffs, but by then, everyone seemed ready to just ignore the scumbag ref and send him back to oblivion.
While some were surprised that the NBA had a rogue official, most sports fans weren’t exactly shocked that a referee would be, you know, evil. In the NBA, some referees have even been accused of having it in for particular players or teams, such as Joey Crawford, who seems to have beef with Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, and Bill Kennedy, allegedly the bane of Doc Rivers’s Boston Celtics.
Indeed, for the most rabid supporters, the hostility during sporting events extends not just to the bad guys in the opposing team’s uniforms, but also to the dastardly zebras in uniform as well.
Sports teams and their fans thrive on feeling that it’s them against the world, but the enmity of fans toward officials goes far deeper. In the metaphor for life that is the sporting event, the referees represent The Man, the authority figure that keeps us down and lies in wait for the perfect time to screw us over.
When they swallow their whistles while the star player gets mugged at the rim, call a ticky-tack foul on the center, or T up the coach for complaining, the refs turn into every corrupt congressman, every kotong cop, every stupid boss, and every unfair professor we’ve ever encountered in our life.
Unlike with Congressman Manhik Manaog, SPO2 Alex Kupit, department manager Froilan Engot, and Professor Anita Coo-Palermo, where we have no choice but to clam up, we’re not quite as helpless when it comes to the referees. In the arena, you can heckle the referees and call them names to your heart’s delight; it’s almost as enjoyable, if not more so, than watching the basketball games, especially if, like me, you’re a fan of the hapless U.P. Fighting Maroons. In fact, joining thousands of other aggrieved fans in chanting “Referee, GAGO!” is one of the most uniquely enjoyable experiences when attending a Filipino sporting event live.
Rafe Bartholomew, who wrote the seminal book on Philippine basketball Pacific Rims, even argues that one reason why the Philippine Basketball Association became a social phenomenon in the Martial Law ‘70s was precisely so people could abuse the refs—verbally and physically.
“If the referees missed a particularly dirty foul, bedlam followed, as fans pelted the court with as much debris as could be dredged from their pockets, handbags, and backpacks,” Bartholomew wrote. “The peso coin was the projectile-of-choice, but bottles, beer cans, and batteries were also lobbed at the hardwood.”
“Unruly behavior that would have gotten spectators in public,” he explained further, “was tolerated inside the arena, and even fans who only watched on television felt cathartic thrills.” Watching the games and taking all their anger out mostly on the referees, was therapy for these people, who were being abused by The Man in almost every other facet of their lives.
The most ugly incident involving referees in Philippine basketball happened in the Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association, the precursor to the PBA. Meralco was playing against Crispa in 1971, and to hear fans of the Reddy Kilowatts tell it, their team was getting the shaft. After yet another bad call against Meralco’s center Teddy “Big Boy” Reynoso went berserk and incited a mini-riot, with the referees at the receiving end of the skirmish.
Reynoso and another teammate mauled officials Joe Obias and Edilberto Cruz. These players were suspended for life by Basketball Association of the Philippines president Lito Puyat, at least until they were reinstated in 1973 through the intercession of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Big Boy’s teammate, who also got his licks in on the refs, Robert Jaworski would become the most popular player in Philippine basketball history, despite—or perhaps, because of—his violent history with officials.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the ill will of sports fans for referees would be exploited so thoroughly by professional wrestling. That whole industry, after all, is a funhouse mirror look at society, taking minor elements from people’s lives and turning them into larger-than-life caricatures. Hence the policeman, the garbage man, the hip-hop artists, the tax collector, and the immortal prince of evil with the power to control the in-arena fireworks, all of who just happen to moonlight as professional wrestlers.
Just like in real life, the referees in professional wrestling are inept—in fact, comically so. They are easily distracted by scantily-clad managers, they miss the foreign objects tucked into the bad guys’ trunks (By the way, is there anything worse than being hit in the face by brass knuckles that’s been marinating for 30 minutes in some sweaty guy’s crotch?), they make a habit of getting hit by steel chairs, and they lose their consciousness at the most inopportune moments, usually when the good guy has the baddie pinned down. I’ve watched wrestling all my life, and by my conservative estimate, about half of all title matches have been marred by terrible officiating.
But while the referees in pro wrestling are awful at their jobs, it could at least be argued that, for the most part, their hearts are in the right place. However, one referee stands out for being evil, so evil in fact, that he makes Tim Donaghy look like a choirboy.
Danny Davis was just another hapless referee for the then-WWF, but when 1986 rolled around, he subtly showed signs of crookedness: disqualifying the good guys for flimsy reasons and allowing bad guys to double team their opponents in tag team matches longer than the five-second limit. Soon, however, Davis pushed the envelope by making quick pinfall counts for wrestling’s villains, amid speculation from television announcers that he had been receiving bribes from the grapplers. WWF president Jack Tunney even summoned Davis for a public apology, which the evil official took back just a few seconds later!
Things reached a boiling point in a January 1987 episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event, during a steel cage match between Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff. The official assigned to the match, Joey Marella, declared Hogan the winner of the match, but Davis inserted himself into the picture and tried to reverse the decision, and even got into a physical altercation with his fellow ref.
A few days later, Davis helped the evil Hart Foundation win the tag team titles from the virtuous British Bulldogs, which would lead to his suspension as a referee. Out of options, Davis became a wrestler himself, and the audience got the pleasure of seeing the hated cheating ref getting the starch beaten out of him by the same guys he had screwed when he was still wearing the stripes.
Today, his stint as the evil referee remains Davis’s lasting legacy, a legacy that allows him to find paid gigs in independent wrestling promotions from time to time.
It would take a ridiculous amount of refereeing evil to top the exaggerated wrestling villainy of Danny Davis, but the world of football just might have someone who fits the bill. World Cup referee Byron Moreno made enemies the world over with his performance during the Italy-South Korea match.
Moreno, an Ecuadorian national, allegedly cooked some kimchee to make sure that the co-hosts would advance past Gli Azzurri. He disallowed a 111th-minute goal by Italy’s Damiano Tomassi, citing the midfielder for offside, called a foul on Italy that led to a missed penalty kick for South Korea late in the game, and ejected striker Francesco Totti for an alleged dive.
The perceived lopsided officiating outraged Media outlets worldwide. English paper the Daily Telegraph, in fact, ordered its readers not to cheer for South Korea, which was playing England’s bitter rival Germany in the semifinals. A tall order, quipped author Nick Hornby, who wrote about the competition for The New Yorker: “Most English football fans would root for a Taliban team against Germany in a World Cup match.” Even FIFA, the international football federation denounced the poor officiating.
A few months later, Moreno was involved once again in a couple of controversial matches in his home country, which led to a 20-game suspension. Instead of carrying on, Moreno decided to leave refereeing for good.
However, that wasn’t the last time Moreno’s name would be in the headlines. In September 2010, he was arrested at New York’s JFK Airport after immigration officials discovered bags of heroin on his stomach and the back of his legs during a routine inspection. After a strip search, authorities came away with more than 10 pounds of heroin on his body.
Say what you will about the evilness of Danny Davis, but at least he never tried to smuggle heroin. You have, at least, got to give him that.
Originally published in UNO March 2011 issue.
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