In every sporting event, a referee must be present to determine right or wrong.
Even when the call is right, half the stadium may disagree, but an official’s life on and off the field is a completely different story.
When fans fill the seats of a stadium or gather around the television to watch a game, they usually have no interest in officials and only hope they do not blow their team’s chance of winning.
No matter the sport, fans will find some way to blame officials for anything. With this type of criticism and pressure, many may wonder why someone would want to be an official. Jimbo Howey is in his eighteenth season as a National Football League official and he finds pleasure in the challenge of what he does.
“I really enjoy the challenge of officiating,” Howey said. “To be successful means being able to handle the physical and mental challenges that are present in each game.”
Missing calls is not an if, but a when for any official at any level. Howey’s advice for up and coming officials is to trust yourself and learn from missteps.
“A person has to have a great deal of confidence in their ability to constantly perform at a very high level,” Howey said. “When mistakes are made, you have to treat them as a learning opportunity so that, hopefully, in the future, the mistakes will not be repeated.”
After Howey’s playing days were over, he wanted some way to stay around athletics and he found that in officiating. He officiated high school football, basketball, baseball and softball before moving to college football and basketball. He was an official in the Atlantic Coast Conference for seven years before he joined the NFL in 1999.
Former coach Kelly Martin has been officiating Division II and NAIA Women’s basketball for 26 years and NAIA football for 16 years. Martin says the criticism and scrutiny officials receive is something they have to deal with and embrace.
“It is important to go into officiating with a willingness to accept that criticism, fair or not, it is a part of the game,” Martin said. “I tell young officials that in general, the criticism is not personal but rather directed at the uniform.”
Coaches and players on all levels have a drive to succeed at their sports. So justified or not, their frustrations are often taken out on the officials.
“Sometimes a coach is right and I have to be humble enough to accept that and make an adjustment,” Martin said. “I don't take it personally, and if a coach chooses to get personal, every rule book offers a solution.”
Whether it is the ball hitting the glove of a catcher, a running back and a linebacker meeting in the hole or a point guard driving to the basket, an official must be able to keep up with the speed of the action during a game.
“After a while, I worked hard at developing a reputation and worked up the ranks,” Martin said. “The most difficult part right now is keeping myself physically ready to work each night at a high level.”
The comradery of athletes on a team is well documented. Long-time officials share a similar bond that is unknown to most fans.
“There is a brotherhood within the staff of the officials and especially within the crew,” Howey said. “We work together on the field but we also talk about and support each other with issues outside of officiating.”
Through officiating, Howey has built relationships and made memories he will cherish for the rest of his life.
“My best memories are not about games, but rather about the people that I have met through officiating,” Howey said. “The regular season games, playoff games and pro bowls just are games but the friendships are forever.”