Over the weekend some 140 high school football referees across the state of Washington, in honor of breast cancer awareness month, donned pink whistles in lieu of the traditional black or silver whistles to show solidarity in the fight against breast cancer. Many of the referees had been touched personally by breast cancer, having lost sisters, mothers or wives to breast cancer or to have female family members or close friends who are breast cancer survivors.
In addition to using the whistles, the refs also volunteered to donation their pay checks for those specific games to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, a worldwide foundation that is active in raising funds for breast cancer research.
While many across the state appreciated the gesture on the part of the referees, the head of the Washington Officials Association (WOA), Todd Stordahl, was not getting the warm fuzzies; in fact, he was seeing red.
He is ready to hand down punishment to the referees, all members of the WOA, for not having requested prior approval of the Board for modifying the regulation uniform for referees. During an interview with a local affiliate he stated that "They chose to not to ask for permission... It send the wrong message to the kids who are playing the game."
The WOA is presently considering penalizing this group of referees by not allowing them to work the next two weeks, thus losing those potential pay checks. But, let's not blow the whistle just yet. As is always my first question, what does the WOA Handbook say about this? What specific rules have been broken? What are the specific penalties outlined for such an infraction and what recourse do the referees have in the form of due process?
While the handbook doesn't specifically describe the official uniform for referees, it does state that a referee can be charged with misconduct by not wearing the approved WOA uniform. It also states that;
ARTICLE III – UNIFORMS
Section 1. Officials shall wear the uniform as approved by the WOA, including the WOA patch.
Section 2. Uniform exceptions may be requested by Associations/Boards to the WOA Executive Board thirty (30) days prior to each scheduled meeting.
According to the handbook, Stordahl may be jumping the gun a bit. According to the WOA Handbook (see page 9) there is a detailed system in place that allows the referees their due process starting at the local level, then regional and state level.
Each referees is required to be sent a certified letter explaining their misconduct which in turn triggers a hearing and then, if an appeal is requested by the accused the process then moves up the chain with the State Board of the WOA making the final determination.
So, clearly, Stordahl spoke out of turn and certainly is ignoring the due process which the organization he oversees has in place. No outlet has reported that there was an emergency meeting of the Board of the WOA over the past week so Stordahl's stated penalty of two games is premature at best.
Therefore, this final quote by Stordahl is something he may want to repeat back to himself. He may well be blowing the whistle too soon on this one. He was quoted as saying, "As someone who follows sports, that's all that we have are rules, regulations and interpretations."
As an aside, the NFL has embraced Breast Cancer Awareness month by implementing their "Critical Catch" Campaign which includes every possible type of awareness. The Empire State Building in New York City as well as Niagara Falls will be illuminated in pink.
On the field we will see everything from having pink ribbons on the balls at all games to referees wearing pink hats, pink ribbons and ... you guessed it, using pink whistles.