Really? Referees Punished For Wearing Pink Whistles For Breast Cancer Awareness

  • Glenn Davis

Last fall, referees of the Pacific Northwest Football Officials Association tried to do some good – they donned pink whistles for breast cancer awareness, and planned on donating game checks to the cause as well. As the group’s president, Jeff Mattson, said, “A lot of the guys in the association have either been touched by breast cancer or affected by breast cancer in some way.” So they found something to do about it – good for them.

Or not. The Washington (state) Officials Association (WOA) greeted the referees’ plan not with praise, but the threat of a two-game suspension. The refs went ahead and wore the pink whistles anyway. And after a drawn-out process, punishment was finally meted out earlier this week. From My Northwest, here’s how the referees (who, again, were trying to show solidarity with, and raise money for, cancer victims) will pay for their dastardly deeds:

Sources close to the decision confirm that the refs will have the majority of their playoff games revoked for the next two years, and their organization is on probation for the next three years. If [WOA commissioner Todd] Stordahl and the WOA disagree with anything the refs do in that time, they will take steps to decertify the group, and 143 referees will be out of a job.

So, what exactly made this controversial in the first place? According to Prep Rally’s Jonathan Wall (insert obligatory, elephant-in-the-room-addressing John Wall reference here), Stordahl said the refs didn’t take their pink-whistle plan through the proper channels:

“They chose not to ask for permission, not to go the right route. It sends the wrong message to kids that are playing the game. ‘If they broke the rules why can’t I do the same?'”

While we doubt the first thing to cross players’ minds about the pink whistles would be, “Oh man, those guys are just doing whatever they want! LAWLESS SOCIETY! UNNECESSARY ROUGHNESS FOREVERMORE!” anyway, for the record, the referees contended that there’s no rule governing whistle color. Stordahl, apparently, saw things differently.

Wall called the punishment “a sorry ending” to a controversy that, frankly, it’s still hard to believe even was a controversy, and really, we can’t put it any better than that. Especially if there was no specific rule against certain colors of whistles, the referees deserve commendation, as far as we can tell. Sometimes, you’ve just got to put aside feeling undermined and let a well-intentioned act stand. Instead, we can’t help but feel like the wrong group of people got punished here.

Photo via KIRO Radio