The uncompromising lens of a television camera never looks away. Its always on the lookout for the
unusual and the controversial, and television is changing the way officials do their jobs. More games are on the air and more
cameras are being used rarely is anything missed.
Read your local paper or turn on the TV or radio; scrutiny of officials is increasing. Almost every
big league professional sporting event is televised by a local station or cable. A growing percentage of college games is
on television, and its becoming common for high school contests to be taped and played back on cable. When something out of
the ordinary happens, cameras and video recorders make sure viewers repeatedly see it. At all levels of competition, its common
for parents and relatives to bring high quality cameras to games. Local newspapers, hungry for news, write up every game.
Local television stations have also put the word out to fans: If something odd happens theyd like to see the tape and possibly
use it on the air.
The John Hirschbeck Roberto Alomar incident, and later the playoff game involving Richie Garcia and
Jeffrey Maier, the New York school boy who interfered with a fly ball, highlighted what many in officiating have known for
some time: There is not a play or incident that goes unreported. The next time youre watching a game on TV or listening to
it on radio, count the number of times the announcers comment on an official.
CNN/SI, the new 24-hour all sports network from CNN, is one of three full-time sports networks to go
on the air in the last year (ESPN-News and Fox Sports News being the other two). In addition, countless regional and local
networks are dedicating more time and resources to sports coverage.
"I think its given (the networks) an opportunity to get people information, so there is nothing they
havent seen in terms of game coverage and in terms of highlights," says Steve Robinson, managing editor of CNN/SI. He says
officials are put in the spotlight more than ever before. According to Robinson, "No longer do you get your sports at six
and 11 and if you missed it, then youve missed it. It gives you the opportunity to see the play that everyone is talking about,
the kid with the home run ball at Yankee Stadium, Alomar spitting, a disputed touchdown. It gives everyone an opportunity
to see it."
Televisions constant demand for video material is changing the way officials at all levels deal with
the media. Bruce Froemming, a 25-year NL umpire, has witnessed the evolution of television coverage. "In the 70s, when I started
in the big leagues, the news was 30 minutes. Sports was maybe three or four minutes. Unless there was something out of the
ordinary, you never even mentioned umpiring," he says. "Now when you go to bed at night and you turn on any of the cable stations,
you see your arguments, you see the play, the discussions by the media over the play and player reaction to the call and on
and on. They come on and say, Look at this play; look at this call."
Veteran AL umpire and crew chief Joe Brinkman has seen the change coming. "Back then, normally everyone
was on their best behavior for the Game of the Week; nothing really happened because everyone said they were on TV today,
so they made sure they didnt say anything to anybody. Today, because everybody is on, were just living like it is. They (the
viewers) get to see the dirty laundry, so to speak."
Radio is also a much bigger factor. During the 1996 World Series between Atlanta and New York, one
of the hottest topics on the call-in circuit concerned the umpire who would be working the plate that night. An interesting
question to be sure, but one that was unheard of five or seven years ago when there were only a handful of all-sports stations.
Interviews with officials after a game are becoming more common. "Well see more of this especially
at the professional and college level," said Robinson. Many leagues and conferences currently have written policies for officials
limiting discussion of on-the-field calls and rules questions with reporters.
Tony Thompson, who oversees the baseball staffs of the Southeastern Conference, the Atlantic Coast
Conference, the Southern Conference and the Southern Collegiate Umpire Association, schedules umpires for nearly 70 colleges
and universities from the University of Maryland to Louisiana State University. "I dont want my umpires talking to the media.
If there is a rules question, the umpire can show the reporter the specific rule that was applied on a particular call, but
under no circumstances will we have our umpires talking to the media after the game about a judgment call," he says. "If a
reporter has a question, he can always call me. And truthfully, the media in the cities where our games are, usually are pretty
good," he continues, "If they have a question, they come to me rather than bothering the umpires." Thompson says dealing with
the media any other way can be a career-breaker.
Froemming worries about the saturation coverage and about the quality and objectivity of those who
cover the games. "From the medias standpoint, they think they do an excellent job. But from our standpoint we think the media
is unfair. The media become fans instead of reporters. It seems so many times (officials) get the short end of the stick as
far as criticism." He says too many reporters act like "homers" rather than trying to get the facts objectively.
Joe Marosy, commissioner of IABBO Board number 12 in Washington, D.C., assigns basketball referees
at the high school and small college level throughout D.C. and southern Maryland. "I tell my officials, If you have a situation
where a reporter wants to talk to you, politely decline the request and give them my number," he says. Marosy is a retired
Division I official who says the way reporters deal with officials has changed dramatically, and not for the better, since
he called his first game in 1969. "Now it seems many reporters are interested in stirring up controversy or making a name
for themselves rather than getting the story right," he says.
Marosy claims he has not noticed much of a difference in media coverage at the high school level, but
things certainly have changed for officials at the college level. "These men and women are increasingly under a microscope,"
he says. Actually, the microscope is a big zoom lens.
Marosy, Thompson and other supervisors say its essential for supervisors to have a clear policy when
dealing with the media that everyone from the rookie official to the seasoned veteran can understand and follow. While the
controversial call that ends up on your local TV newscast probably wont damage your officiating career, poorly thought-out
comments, made in haste or with a defensive attitude, to a reporter will be replayed over and over again on television.
Reporters and play-by-play announcers in the future will be more aggressive about what they have to
say about officials. Officials are going to be on television more and more. Because of the huge salaries paid to the players,
sports are viewed more as entertainment, like attending a big name concert or movie. The officials, because they play such
an important role in the game, are often viewed as supporting actors. The new rules have evolved right before our eyes; were
not the final judges anymore and we have to face that realization every day, every game, when the TV camera zooms in and takes
a deep, long look.