20 Biggest Referee Fails in Sports
Is there any person in sports more maligned than the referee? You almost have to feel bad for the men and women who put on those goofy uniforms and step into the hornets' nest.
Referees have no allies when it comes to officiating a game—it's not often that a coach, player, or team comes to their defense. At best, game officials hope to not be a part of the story at all.
They rarely get credit for getting a call right (because it's their job to get it right) and any time they giveth, they taketh away from someone else. So, when the boos aren't raining down on a ref for what the fans perceive to be a terrible call, they're spending the rest of the time just trying to focus and get out of the way.
In essence, referees have scant opportunity to be the good guy, but an almost limitless potential to be the bad guy. And in some leagues and levels, they barely get paid for their role as a postgame punching bag...if it's a paid position at all.
Those poor suckers are doing it because they like it.
This doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of moments when a referee fails in a way that fans can appreciate—even if it's after the fact.
Some referee fails have the distinction of being spectacular (if not hilarious) without the accompanying grumbles of affecting the a game's outcome; fails that are awesome in and of themselves.
These are the 20 biggest referee fails in sports.
20. Misdirected Coin Toss
Aside from knowing the rules and calling penalties, coin-toss duties are the most important function of referee's game-day responsibilities. Though, important as they are, at least it's a pretty simple task that even the most dimwitted among us have managed at some point.
Which is why you'd think an NFL ref would well practiced at this activity and be able to pull it off, on command, and without incident. But no. Even with several feet of space in between the opposing players, the ref in this clip flips the coin and it lands on Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.
19. But...Haven't We All Wanted to Hit Kris Humphries?
I'm not entirely sure that this referee incident constitutes a "fail" in the truest sense of the word. I don't really know what it is. It went down in the fourth quarter during a Nets/Raptors game in December 2012.
The Nets' Kris Humphries was lined up at the free-throw line and had already sunk the first of two shots. But just when he sets up for the second FT, referee Courtney Kirkland hauled ass onto the court and jumped up to block/stop Humphries from shooting.
Apparently Kirkland wanted to get substitutions into the game before the action picked back up. Which actually makes sense…but isn't that why the refs have whistles?
18. Soccer Ref Yellow Card Fail
First—please excuse the ridiculous music. I have no idea what possesses people to do this, but it ruins almost half of all videos on the interwebs. That being said, this soccer referee fail was too hilarious to ignore.
A ref handing out a yellow card is always going to be unpopular with some people on hand, but he risks losing the respect of everyone when he can't even pull out a card properly.
And seals the deal by stumbling over the ball when trying to recover.
17. Ref Is Given the Business by an Inflatable Mascot
This happened at a Harlem Globetrotters event, so it was almost certainly by design. But that doesn't mean the referee looks like any less of a bonehead getting nailed on the dome by an inflatable mascot.
There are actually two hits in this video—the mascot hitting the ref with his inflatable head, and the ref hitting the floor. Booya.
16. Ed Hochuli Doesn't Know Which Way Is Up
Ed Hochuli is one of the most well-known referees in the NFL. His bulging biceps are the envy of nearly every play-caller in the business, who often fill time during the game by commenting on his physique.
Hochuli is more animated a character than we're used to, which makes his mistakes stand out above many of the no-name refs out there. Mistakes like the verbal bumbling on display during a Monday night game in 2008.
Hochuli needed a moment to recover from his initial miscue and explain the call, but Al Michaels and John Madden had some fun at his expense in the meantime. Probably in between discussions about his muscles.
15. Ref Forgets He's a Ref, Sacks the Quarterback
Most people who watched this 2008 game between South Carolina and LSU live came away with the impression that SEC umpire Wilbur Hackett decided to relive his playing days with an intentional block on former Gamecocks' quarterback Stephen Garcia.
The play was repeated a number of times in slow motion and it seemed like Hackett made a move towards Garcia, squared his shoulders, and took him down with an intentional move.
But the ref was just reacting to the action on the field when the direction quickly changed and his instincts kicked in. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier accepted the explanation and Hackett was cleared of any wrongdoing by the SEC.
Although, that doesn't make it any less funny or fail-tastic.
14. Umpire Shames Himself, His Family
Considering how terrible baseball umpires are at the basic functions of the job, nobody expects them to be any good at the basic functions of a ball player's job. They should be worse than a pitcher, but better than a ceremonial first-pitch thrower-outer.
That's where your average umpire should fall, but Jim Wolf, who is the brother of major league pitcher Randy Wolf, would seemingly have a genetic athletic advantage. Key word, of course, being seemingly.
Wolf's throw in the dirt makes Mariah Carey look like a pitching prospect in comparison.
13. NBA Ref Eats Court
In this NBA referee's defense, everyone in this video seems pretty convinced that he slipped on a wet patch of the court. So his tumble is less of a fail than if he had just tripped over his own shoelaces, but it's epic enough to still qualify as a fail.
It seems the broadcast missed his initial crash to the court, but they were kind enough to replay the incident in slow motion while they convened at center court to discuss it. The injury wasn't too serious, but the ref's pride was definitely dented.
12. Hockey Ref Is a Terrible Ice Skater
This is a YouTube gem that very few people have had the pleasure of seeing. Its genius is in the simplicity. Ice skating is the fundamental skill required in hockey. Falling down is the most fundamental fail.
The linesman in this clip is skating off to his designated side prior to a face-off at center ice. Midway there he attempts to turn around and skate backwards, but his blades make contact and send him hurling to the ice ass-first.
The linesman recovers quickly from the fall, so as not to drag out the indignity. Obviously, his self-respect took much longer to bounce back.
11. High School Basketball Ref Tips Over
This high school basketball referee falls much in the same way as the high school hockey ref did earlier in this list.
But this one is much more ridiculous because, while ice skating backwards is a skill that takes awhile to develop, most people can walk backwards without any formal instruction. Even walking backwards swiftly, or running, is something most people can do.
Particularly the people playing and officiating basketball games. Either the ref in this clip never mastered backward movement, or his abilities have been greatly diminished by old age and belly fat.
Whatever the case, it's time he thought about hanging up his zebra stripes for good.
10. Ref Speak for 'I Have No Idea What Just Happened'
Reliant Stadium in Houston has a seating capacity of just over 70,000. NFL games average 17.5 million viewers, presumably more when the Cowboys are playing. That's a mighty large audience—especially when you have sole discretionary microphone privileges.
Football is complicated. There are a lot of balls in the air. Sorting out numbers and teams and penalties and field directions are something a referee should do before he starts speaking into a microphone. A little confusion up front can lead to a lot of confusion by the end.
The ref in this clip gets off to a terrible start on the microphone and it really snowballs out of control. By the end, he's looking in either direction for assistance and doesn't seem to have any grasp of what is going on.
9. Annnnnd That's Why He's Officiating Instead of Playing
A referee who mistakes himself for a player is far more likely to embarrass himself than one who accepts his position in the game. Players play. Coaches coach. And officials officiate.
The referee in this Thunder/Magic game, which took place on Christmas Day 2011, clearly hasn't fully accepted that he is there just to officiate the game. Why else would he be trying to work in some fancy ball work?
The ball rolled out to him in the fourth quarter and all he had to do was toss it a few feet to the awaiting Magic player. But instead opts for a behind-the-back pass that misses the mark by about 12 feet and lands in the audience.
Hopefully he's not staying up every night waiting for a call from the Harlem Globetrotters, 'cause that call ain't never gonna come.
8. Someone Replace the Replacement Refs!
Everyone knows the replacement referees embarrassed themselves on the botched call that gave the Seahawks an early-season win over the Packers.
Heck, that singular call was bad enough to end the lockout, putting the NFL officials back on the field the next week. Sure it was terrible, but at least they made a decisive call, however terrible.
These guys didn't know which way was up during the preseason—as evidenced by this hilarious clip. After the ref mumbles some vague nonsense, the looks on the faces of Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Giants coach Tom Coughlin really say it all.
And then the announcers lay into the officials, insisting they aren't "trying to make fun" of them, and they nobody "expected much" from them to begin with. It's safe to say that we all expected even less of them after this call.
7. Hockey Ref Takes Crotch-First Slide into the Net
Like falling down, a shot to the crotch is another fundamental building block in the foundation of comedy. America's Funniest Home Videos has been on for…like 30 years…and it's 90 percent falling down, getting hit in the crotch, or falling down and getting hit in the crotch.
Naturally it's even funnier when the two are combined. Which is exactly what happened to the linesman in this junior hockey game from 2011. He came speeding into the action around the front of the net and lost his balance.
His attempt to avoid the goalie was successful, but his attempt to stop his crotch from crashing into the net was not.
6. There's No WHAT on the Play?
Who hasn't stumbled over his or her words at a key moment at least once or twice? That awful moment when your mouth just refuses to operate in conjunction with your brain is something most of us can relate to.
Even news anchors and reporters, who do this for a living, fail at it on the regular.
Being an accomplished public speaker isn't required for most referee gigs, so it's no surprise they occasionally struggle with that aspect of the job. But not all flubs are created equal—it really depends on the mistaken words.
This referee's failed attempt to say "flag" really stands out as one of the more flagrant verbal fails.
5. Ref Pushes Player, Immediately Regrets Decision
Have you ever heard the phrase "Don't write a check with your mouth that your butt can't cash"? Well, I'm pretty sure it was create as a direct reference to this video. Don't look up the timeline, though—just trust me.
The thing about being a referee on a soccer field is that you are surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of people that hate you. In fact, the only thing the opposing players and fans of opposing teams have in common, is their hatred for you.
The pitch is a veritable minefield of overwhelming rage that must be traversed delicately. Which means under no circumstances should the referee be the inciter of physical violence. If you are not doing something that benefits one side or the other, nobody will be on your side.
Take a swing at one of the players and, before you know it, every single one of them is chasing you around the stadium like a lion chases down a gazelle. The ref in this video is just lucky he was faster than the kids that wanted to kill him.
4. Um, Dude. That Wasn't a First Down.
This epic referee fail during the 2013 Outback Bowl didn't get much attention because of the even more epic play that followed it.
The story of the game ended up being the bone-crushing hit South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney laid on Michigan running back Vincent Smith—which forced a game-changing fumble.
But the real story is that the play never should have even happened because on the previous play, the Wolverines were obviously short on a fourth-down attempt.
It was very close, but the measurement revealed they had just missed it. So, naturally, referee Jeff Maconaghy awarded a first down to Michigan.
Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier was livid, the announcers were stunned, and the players were all confused. Spurrier recounted the conversation he had with an official after the call:
Spurrier: "You know the ball didn't touch the first-down marker?"
Official: "I know it didn't."
Spurrier: "Well, why'd he give it to 'em?"
Official: "I don't know."
Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Infinity fail.
3. NHL Ref Finally Hits Puberty...at Center Ice
Men and women don't know much about the physical developmental milestones for one another, so I'm not sure how big a deal the whole voice change actually is.
It doesn't seem all that momentous, but it's usually portrayed that way in movies and television. So I'm going to go ahead and assume that it is because movies and television would never lie to me.
Operating from that starting point, this regionally televised fail by NHL referee Chris Rooney at center ice is all the more amazing. Just as he begins to announce something, his voice cracks and changes entirely.
Also, Rooney simultaneously grabs his crotch—which is something movies never prepared me for. The incident probably brought back some tough memories…which he can forever relive on YouTube.
2. Thanksgiving Day (Coin Toss) Massacre
As a Steelers fan, this inexplicable referee fail stands out in my mind as if it happened yesterday, despite occurring over a decade ago. It happened in a game against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day 1998.
The game went to overtime and the team captains and referee met at midfield for the coin flip to determine who would receive the ball first. Steelers running back Jerome Bettis calls tails and the coin lands on tails.
Normally that would be a good thing, but apparently this game took place on opposite day. Vile referee Phil Luckett decided the Lions deserved it more and awarded them the ball…and, ultimately, the game.
Bill Cowher was spitting angry and his chin quaked with rage.
The NFL guards its intellectual property like a hungry junkyard dog guards a juicy steak, so you'll have to click over to their online kingdom to see this video.
1. Little League World Series Umpire Topples Over
This clip is from a regional final during the 2008 Little League World Series. It's a fail so hilarious that it couldn't have been scripted any better. The villain was spot on—nobody likes baseball umpires. They have got to be the most universally reviled official in all sports.
And then you've got the added layer of him being relatively rotund. There are few things in life funnier than a fat guy falling down. It's a major piece of the structure in the foundation of comedy. And he doesn't even trip over anything.
He just takes a couple of swift steps backwards and is unable to stop the momentum of his own body weight from careening into the dirt. He rolls around for a bit on the grass and requires the assistance of 2-3 grown men to get back on his feet.
It's just too hilarious. And I'm not being insensitive because he fell on grass. The ump wasn't injured and was all smiles when he returned to the game minutes later. His spirit may be broken on the inside, but physically he was just fine.
Bonus: Referee Win!
It just didn't seem fair to pick on referees this much without including at least one example of them winning at life. Because they have been known to do just that on occasion.
The ref in this clip walked away with a W for so many reasons.
1. He shoved a mascot to the ground, which we've all wanted to do.
2. He won a dance off against the same mascot.
3. He did the worm.
4. He took off his shirt.
5. He was escorted off the court.
In short…he's an American hero.
And if American heroes are your thing, you should definitely follow me on Twitter. Because I might know some. Follow @blamberr
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!