Football Refs Face Penalty for Breast Cancer Awareness Stunt

Jeanne Sager

pink whistleWhat the heck do pink whistles have to do with football? In a perfect world, they'd be slung around the neck of every hard-workin' game-callin' guy out there to keep the breast cancer cause in the spotlight at every gridiron game in America. But we don't live in a perfect world, now, do we?

We live in a place where 143 high school football referees are risking suspension from their jobs to wear pink whistles 'round their necks because they truly believe in the cause. Now that's dedication y'all! The refs of the Pacific Northwest Football Officials Association threw themselves into raising awareness last fall, around the time of Breast Cancer Awareness month.

They got the pink whistles to help them call the games for one straight week, and pledged to donate their game checks to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. All was ducky until the Washington Officials Association stepped in to say, "Do it, and face disciplinary action."

Their reasoning was pretty arbitrary. There's nothing in the rule book that specifies a certain color whistle to match the referees' uniform -- all it says is "Officials shall wear the uniform as approved by the WOA, including the WOA patch" -- which is why the guys went ahead with it.

Referees are supposed to be "unassuming" on the field. They don't get in the way of the play. They wear muted colors so as not to distract the players. I get that. But we're not talking about flashing neon sideboards and bright pink shorts. An official ref's whistle weighs 4 ounces. Its longest side is just over an inch long.

Are we really being led to believe that something that minuscule is going to disrupt the tenor of a football game? A game guys play in snow, with mud flying everywhere, with helmets on that already disrupt the view?

Speaking as a fan, I rarely notice the refs, regardless of what they're wearing. When I do it's because they're out there whistling at the time when they're there to be seen AND heard. So the one time the pink becomes an issue, it's because the ref is doing his JOB.

Not to mention these were high school games. We're not talking the NFL here. But this week the WOA (ironic acronym if there ever was one -- these folk could have pulled back on the reins of their idiocy and avoided this whole thing) came down with a punishment. The refs will have the majority of their playoff games revoked for the next two years, and the whole organization is on probation for the next three years.

Frankly, I love that these guys stood up to the idiocy here. I love that they took a stand. That they were punished stinks, but it almost makes the whole cause shine that much brighter.

What do you think of the refs' sacrifice? Do you even notice the refs when you watch football?


Image via Johnnie Shannon/Flickr

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