Impartial Judgment

For better or for worse, Jim Tunney’s book is basically what one would expect from an experienced professional referee. He describes himself as, if not a frustrated athlete, then at least as a person who once had a dream of pitching for the Yankees but simply did not have the talent. He is not particularly defensive about his occupation, or haunted by the claim that those who can, do, while those who cannot, referee. Instead, he argues that officiating not only is a legitimate way of participating in sports but also is absolutely essential. Without skilled officials who are knowledgeable, dedicated, and meticulously prepared for each game, football in particular would cease to be the exciting but orderly entertainment package it now is.

The qualities that make for a good referee, though, and the fact that impartiality and invisibility on the field are the major goals of an official, tend to work against Tunney in writing a book. Traditionally, referees are not supposed to be dramatic, controversial, or entertaining, and this limits the scope of his writing. One may be sure that Tunney knows many dramatic, controversial, and entertaining stories; scattered throughout the book are a few intriguing anecdotes that only someone as close to the game as a referee would be in a position to tell. Tunney shies away from making these stories the central part of his book, however, perhaps in part because, as he notes in the acknowledgments, the league told him not...

(The entire section is 482 words.)