We’ve all seen this guy – standing on the edge of his coaching area, or sometimes outside of it, screaming across the field to get the attention of the officials, waving his hands wildly, embarrassing his players, making a scene. Or the guy who goes into the locker room after the game and tells his group, “It’s okay, the refs blew it, the refs had it out for us.” This is Buddy Stephens in Last Chance U who actually assaulted an official after a game, this is Jose Mourinho, who has been fined numerous times for commenting on referee performances before and after matches (which is actually against Football Association rules). This is my old high school coach who used to slam and crack a clipboard in front of us and the ref at halftime at least once a year. This is my old buddy’s father who got arrested for sucker punching a referee (who was actually an off-duty cop) outside a high school stadium.
The commonality between these men: they are all narcissists, incapable of accepting that they could actually be defeated under the rule of fair game, thus teaching their players to make excuses, to quit, to chase refs. For their part, some of these guys have a point – not all soccer referees are created equal; there is a decidedly human element to their play-calling that good coaches accept and other coaches do not. Furthermore, there have been numerous cases of match-fixing across sport, from the UEFA cup scandal, to 2006’s Serie A, to our own claims that Vegas controls the NBA. Game 7! But here’s the thing: this election, for all of its entertainment value, is not a sporting contest.
To berate moderators, as he has throughout the televised debates, even to comment on their personalities and biases before the debates take place, is a way of alleviating his own blame in the case of failure. And now, from Wednesday’s debate to his bold comment that he will only accept the outcome of the election “if he wins,” is the biggest “it’s the refs fault” of them all.
There have been election scandals across the world and across time, from Mexico to Iran to Greece and Rome, each with their own varying circumstances. However, when these scandals break, often too does the public image of a fair and open election. They conjure, in the public mind, memories of recounts in Florida, long, unmoving voting lines in Philadelphia – they challenge the very structure of our democracy.
Sure, there are those who will say that our democracy is tweaked, that our election processes and Superpacs and Superdelegates and yada yada yada… look, we get it. That’s certainly a piece of it. But Trump is overlooking his own flaws when he says “rigjob” at every turn; he is halfway on the field, yelling for the referee to make a call, laying the foundation to scapegoat the blame when his team, down 3-0 with only minutes to play, came in with the wrong tactics and the wrong coach to start. It’s a moot point. And his team, and the game itself, are suffering because of it.