Every so often, there are sports stories that seemingly make no sense. This is one of them.
According to scotsman.com, Scottish Junior Cup player Philip John "P.J." Dolan was issued a yellow card by referee Gavin Duncan for playing significantly past the referee's whistle, going so far as to score a goal and celebrating despite the referee and assistant referee calling the play offsides.
Dolan, who plays for Kilsyth, subsequently received a second yellow for diving, resulting in an automatic sendoff and two-game suspension.
When such an event happens in the United States—most notably in the NBA—the offender is assessed a penalty for showing up the official. The Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard led the league last season with 18 technicals while second place Kobe Bryant picked up 16, many for showing up the referee. Just last night, Bryant received a delay-of-game warning for refusing to give the game ball to the nearest official.
Soccer empowers and instructs its officials to penalize similar behavior. If a player ignores a whistle to stop play and continues to delay the game by running the pitch and scoring a fake goal, that player is to receive a booking—former MLB manager Lou Piniella often delayed games by throwing bases into the outfield enroute to his demonstrative ejections.
But what if the player can't hear the whistle?
What if the player can't hear anything at all?
What the Kilsyth vs. Armadale Scottish Junior Cup box score does not say is that Philip Dolan is deaf.
According to Philip's father, "The whistle went and Philip carried on. The linesman put the flag up but he didn’t see it and he kept going and scored the goal, but he was offside."
When a soccer forward has broken away and is on his way to a one-on-one showdown with the opposing goalkeeper, he often has more important things to focus on than a raised flag tens of yards away on the sideline, which is most likely positioned behind the player by the time it is raised.
In FIFA, MLS and other popular soccer leagues, the flag never stops play—indeed, that flag is often not noticed by the common fan or players until the referee's whistle has blown to stop the action.
So we are left with the 24-year-old Dolan, who is "profoundly deaf," running past the assistant referee on the sideline, past defenders—past everyone—and a whistle sounds. It is safe to say, Dolan cannot hear it.
I have officiated basketball contests between completely deaf teams before. The whistle means absolutely nothing—how can it? Instead, we used an exaggerated and animated gesture, defined prior to each contest, that communicates to the players that play has been stopped. In field sports, bright flags may additionally be used.
Occasionally, players wouldn't see our human stop signs and would continue playing for five or ten seconds longer. Given our advanced knowledge of the players' hearing disability, it was fairly easy to accommodate and allow the players time to react. Not once were they penalized for failing to immediately stop playing.
And therein lies our complication.
Kilsyth has conceded that no one bothered to inform referee Duncan of Dolan's auditory deficiency on the day of the contest. Dolan was the only deaf player on either team.
Who should the yellow card really go to?
Though Kilsyth manager Eric Sinclair had allegedly informed Duncan about Dolan's deafness during a match four weeks prior to the contest at hand, Sinclair never followed up to remind Duncan on the day of Dolan's double-yellow.
Most sports officials lead busy lives—officiating is often an avocation that is performed during spare time yet often enough that multiple games tend to run together and information about a specific detail can be lost. A busy human being cannot always recall one specific piece of information told to him four weeks prior regarding a person he thinks he will never see again.
Duncan most likely forgot about Dolan's deafness in the four weeks since first being informed. The most recent contest was a replay of a Scottish Junior Cup tie, a game Duncan likely did not anticipate he would be working four weeks prior.
So when Duncan blew his whistle and Dolan kept on running, he naturally thought Dolan was displaying resentment toward the call or otherwise delaying the game with unsportsmanlike conduct, an offense punishable with a booking.
When Kilsyth objected to the yellow card, it was likely too late. Recanting a penalty after the fact often sets a dangerous precedent, even when the circumstances are as extreme as a player who violated because he was incapable of doing otherwise.
When Duncan issued Dolan his second yellow card for diving and sent him off, that was a routine call with a penalty that mandated a disqualification and suspension.
Still, the question remains: Is it the coach's responsibility to inform the official about a circumstance as significant as deafness or is the official's responsibility to ask the coach each and every game whether a player might need accommodation?
Though the answer may not be completely straightforward, this much is clear. A lack of communication between coach and referee has led to a controversial penalty and mandatory suspension that could have been prevented.
This article also featured on Close Call Sports.