Monday, November 1, 2010

Whistle Blowers

By Tim Richardson

Two weeks ago, I read a story on Yahoo! Sports about dozens of high school football referees potentially being penalized by the Washington Officials Association (WOA) for using pinks whistles in a series of Thursday night games to raise awareness about breast cancer. The refs also donated their game checks to a nonprofit dedicated to breast cancer education and research.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, other than skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society's (ACS) most recent estimates, there were over 207,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women in the U.S. in 2010. Additionally, there were more than 50,000 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS), a non-invasive and earliest form of breast cancer.

Another article in USA Today cites WOA Commissioner Todd Stordahl as saying the refs “didn’t ask permission and disregarded official rules for appropriate uniforms.” He continued by adding that the refs actions “set a bad example for players.” The Commissioner also said the organization might keep these refs from officiating playoff games…which would result in them losing two game checks.

The ACS estimates that approximately 40,000 women lost their lives to breast cancer in 2010…and Mr. Stordahl is concerned about whistles not being black and the refs not getting “permission” to bring attention to an extremely noble cause? What type of example is that setting for players?

Look, I get it. We live in a world that has rules, policies, laws, etc. But sometimes, rules just don’t work. Now don’t be ridiculous and say I’m calling for a world with anarchy. I’m not saying that at all. The “rules” that I’m referring to are trivial things like…well, the color of a football referee’s whistle.

This story quickly reached the masses and the outcry of support for the referees grew, while the consternation toward the WOA swelled. This is a highly sensitive issue, so within hours Mr. Stordalh’s email address and contact information were being shared via sites such as Facebook. I certainly don’t agree with posting the man’s information all over the Internet, but it makes you wonder how much the public uproar and negative attention in the media factored into the WOA’s decision not to penalize the referees.

On October 25, posted a story in which Mr. Stordahl reiterated that the WOA's issue was that the officials “did not follow proper procedure in electing to change from the standard black whistles, considered part of the uniform.

To the WOA’s credit, they have allowed officials to use pink whistles at other sporting events, including volleyball, soccer and basketball. But their rationale for deciding against the use of pink whistles at football games was “to keep the focus on the players and games.” So they weren’t concerned about people being focused on the players at the volleyball, soccer and basketball games…huh?

The WOA did inform the referees that there were consequences for rules violations if they went ahead with their plans to use pink whistles. But the officials already had the whistles and pledged their game checks to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

I guessing the two and a half million breast cancer survivors in the United States, along with their families and friends, are thankful for people like these referees in Washington.

To me, the big picture is way more important…not to mention life altering.

Tim Richardson is Executive Vice President. Contact him at

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