Full Context and MLS Refs

I have never done a FanPost before, but I had to get this off my chest in hopes that I could let it drop after this. Okay, since I also post as "Fred Zilla" on the MLS Power Rankings articles, I will let it drop after that post tomorrow. Please forgive all transcription/editing errors. Also, please forgive some long quotes but I want to provide some context and try not to misrepresent anyone.

First, a little background. I was a huge Jazz fan in the Malone-Stockton era. My interest started to fade after the NBA Finals in 1998, especially Game 6. The Jazz had the best record during the regular season, swept the Lakers (with Shaq and Kobe) in the Western Conference Finals, but still fell to the Bulls in the Finals. Jordan had announced he would retire at the end of the season, so many people (outside of Utah) wanted to see Jordan "go out on top." The Bulls beat the Jazz in Game 6 of the Finals and won the NBA Championship. Game 6 included some "questionable" calls that went against the Jazz (for details, see, I never subscribed to the conspiracy theories regarding that game, but I did come to decide that Jordan's popularity influenced the result, even to the point that it influenced the refs. Now, it seems that MLS has the same concept and Bobby Warshaw describes it as "full context."

On August 12, 2018, Toronto FC was hosting NYCFC when Jozy Altidore was shown a straight red card in the 11th minute for kicking a NYCFC player. Before halftime, Bobby Warshaw (@bwarshaw14) had tweeted a poll question: "The red card decision came in the 10th minute of a national TV game between two elite teams. Should those factors influence a referee's decision to send a player off?"

Before I move on, what "factors" does Mr. Warshaw identify? A red card decision, someone is getting sent off and a team will (likely) play the rest of the game down a man. The 10th minute, it's early in the game. National TV, so people are watching. And finally, two elite teams, this is a big game between big teams. Should those factors influence a ref?

Mr. Warshaw is already receiving some blowback on Twitter when he participates in an Instant Analysis video on MLS's website ( Mr. Warshaw's comments include: "Referees are always saying we have to take in the full context of a call. It was the 10th minute of a stand-alone, national televised game between two of the most appeasing or appealing teams in MLS... I didn't turn on ESPN today to watch an 11v10 training exercise." When the other participants in that segment call out Mr. Warshaw, he claims "Im just trying to point out the complexity of the call for a referee, that you do have to factor all these things in and it is an entertainment product. He is a neutral arbiter of people tuning in to this game. He is trying to provide them the best product." How can the ref be a "neutral arbiter" if he is trying to provide an entertaining product? According to Mr. Warshaw, the ref is biased toward entertainment.

Mr. Warshaw's comments triggered a variety of responses, but I want to focus on one or two aspects. Mr. Warshaw takes it for granted that "Referees are always saying we have to take in the full context of a call." Do we have to accept that? Do referees factor all those things into a call? Sadly, who could be right a fair amount of the time. Mr. Grajeda even took some time to decide Altidore deserved a red card. But the part that concerns me (and others, as we'll see) is that Mr. Warshaw seems to assume we should all just accept that. After all, he "didn't turn on ESP today to watch an 11v10 training exercise."

Mr. Warshaw seems to get some support from certain colleagues. Matt Doyle (@MattDoyle76), MLS's Armchair Analyst, tweets "Anyone who pretends there's not a fan/perception-fueled 'oh you can't show a card there in such a big moment' culture is being willfully blind. It's why, for example, De Jong wasn't sent off in 2010." First, Mr. Doyle uses a strawman argument. Who is pretending there's no "you can't show a card in a big moment" culture? That is the whole point. We know it is there, and most of us don't like it. Second, I think Mr. Doyle's example is terrible. Spain went on to win that 2010 game, so the fact that De Jong was not sent off did not impact the result of the game. Anyone else still remember a certain MLS Cup Final in 2013? Did the decision, in "full context," not to red card Aurelien Collin change the result of that game at all?

As the blowback continues, Mr. Warshaw (@bwarshaw14) seems to continue his retreat, even changing his story. "Im more on the No side of this, but Im surprised to see it weigh so heavily that way." I think this illustrates the fundamental problem. Mr. Warshaw is surprised that most people want the referee to make the correct call, regardless of the "full context," as opposed to most people wanting the ref to keep the game interesting and entertaining.

Enter our own Coach Mike Petke (@petkemike), who gets wind of Mr. Warshaw's comments and tweets "WOW!!!!! I thought consistency was what we need. Nationally televised game? You didn't tune in to watch 11v10?? WOW to even suggest that. @bwarshaw14". Mr. Warshaw (@bwarshaw14) responds, "I agree with you, Mike. I want refs to make the same call every time. But refs are always talking about the importance of context & managing the situation, so I tried to provide that perspective. And I think we've both seen calls when refs do favor 'context' over laws of the game". Coach Petke (@petkemike) is not sidetracked by Mr. Warshaw's "perspective" red herring, "Yes, and as someone who's in the position of examining and providing public commentary, we have to continue to push for 'what's right'. Not 'what frequently happens'." Mr. Warshaw (@bwarshaw14) sticks to his guns, sorta, "I think its my job to state both my personal opinion (which I did multiple times in the video) [my note: yes, we heard what you tuned in for, etc.] & also explain why certain things happen. I personally agree with you on this, but Im not sure I'd be doing my job if I didn't provide how referees are looking at the situation, as well." (emphasis mine).

Aye, there's the rub. Mr. Warshaw is making sure we know that referees are taking into account the "factors" he described and the "context," even over the Laws of the Game. The division is clear. Mr. Warshaw recognizes that refs are evaluating "context," even over the Laws, and he is surprised more people are not okay with that, all in the name of making sure the ref can be a "neutral arbiter" that provides an entertaining product. Coach Petke recognizes that refs are evaluating "context" as well, but he would rather have them do "what's right" and follow the Law, or at least try.

Where does all this leave us? For me, I am grateful we have a Coach and Keeper that gets it. Nick Rimando (@NickRimando) tweeted, "There it is! @bwarshaw14 stated out what every MLS player see's during a match. [Pray] this isn't how PRO is ran. IMO Refs should referee the game as is and not what the score is or if it's a televised game or not. #consistency is [key]". Questioned about VAR refs watching the Simpsons, Coach Petke (@petkemike) said, "...I have 10,000 reasons not to answer this so AT THIS TIME I will not. All I will say is that I feel for you as a supporter... #Accountability". Understood and thank you to both of you, and to the whole team.

I would never call for a boycott of MLS, or to not renew season tickets (I will be renewing mine), because I still enjoy watching RSL too much for that. At the very least, I enjoy the simple pleasure of watching a fun game played by players I admire (looking at you Beckerman and Rusnak, and many others) on a beautiful evening with my son. However, I will say what Coach Petke and the rest of the team cannot say without getting their bank accounts drained: MLS NEEDS TO STOP THIS and referees need to ref according to the Laws of the Game and without any "context" or other standards. RSL may not be an "elite team" that gets on national TV very often, but the allure of sports is about a fair contest between two teams. If MLS provided that fair contest on a regular basis, it would quickly become one of the better leagues in the world. MLS needs #Accountability not "context." Put another way, when Plata ends up in a "freakin' headlock" or gets pushed over on a break, make the damn call!

Sorry for my rant. I'm going to get some sleep.

FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of RSL Soapbox editors or staff.