What People Don't Get About My Job: The Referee

"You can't imagine that I don't care who wins. But I really don't."

I could care less who wins this or any game. My kids always ask who my favorite team is - in all sorts of sports. They are continually flabbergasted when I tell them I don't have one, 'I just want to see a well-played game.'

That is the essence of my job - to protect something precious. The fair opportunity to compete for something very scarce. The win. It is my privilege to share the game with the best players there are.

I also want to make sure that it is a safe opportunity and do whatever I can to maintain the flow of the game - mostly by staying out of the way unless I have to intervene to protect fairness and safety. I do all this while hustling to maintain my position, staying calm in a hurricane of emotion, watching a dizzying assortment of interactions and comparing them to the spirit and letter of a rule book that may not be all that consistent or clear at times.

So when you tell me that I've made three calls against your team and none against the other team, you need to know some things:

  1. I probably don't even know because I don't keep track
  2. Fair doesn't mean everyone gets the same number of penalties or fouls called against them
  3. Your team needs to make some adjustments

I know you want me to care like you care about your team winning. That's why there are referees - you can't be trusted to know what is fair. That is why you can't imagine that I don't care who wins. But I really don't.

If you try to make your struggle my issue, your struggle will deepen and I won't accept the burden. Play the game. I'll do my level best to make sure it is fair and safe.

We're asking readers to tell us what the public doesn't understand or appreciate about their jobs. Leave your own answer in the comment section or email us at aboutmyjob1@gmail.com. Learn about the project here.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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