Soccer….Family Style


For Our Referee Family, a Poignant and Momentous Start to MLS 2014
March 8, 2014, 12:57 pm
Filed under: Major League Soccer, US Soccer

I am a soccer supporter, but I came to my love of soccer by way of refereeing. When I met my husband in 1991, he was an up and coming referee in US Soccer, who eventually spent 10 years as a National Referee for US Soccer. I realized early on that if I wanted to see him, I needed to certify, and I became a referee in 1993, eventually becoming a State Referee and working high school and college games.

I’ve loved refereeing, but I’ve seen referee organizations doing both good to raise the level of the soccer in America and bad discriminating and treating people who weren’t their chosen few horribly, trashing careers and wreaking misery on the people they’re supposed to be supporting.

That said, I stand with the Professional Soccer Referees Association, and I encourage other supporters to do so also. You can’t complain about the calls made in MLS and not support the referee’s union. Their demands are to be paid fairly in a league that has gotten big enough to recruit big name players, but not compensate referees well enough that they can make a career out of refereeing. There is an enormous amount of time and training that goes into becoming a MLS level referee. How can we expect our best and brightest soccer talent to pursue refereeing when the highest level in the professional won’t allow a person to support themselves financially as a career? We cannot expect top level refereeing (although I would argue we often get it) without paying a reasonable salary to encourage the excellence and training we want from our referee pool.

Today is a huge day in our family, a day I have looked forward to and dreaded for years. Our daughter passed the entry level referee exam with a score of 94% and is officially a US Soccer Referee. I am full of pride, and so hopefully that she will not face the discrimination I endured in my career. I believe her best hope as an official and our best hope as supporters lies with the PSRA. But please don’t take my word for it. I share, with permission, a post from Landis Wiley, former MLS track referee. I hope you’ll read it and gain a little more understanding for what life is like on the way to MLS as a referee:

(Shared via Facebook, 3/7/14)

Friends,

In re: the decision today by PRO to lockout the referees of Major League Soccer, I feel the time is right to share a point of view that in many ways relates to the events unfolding, and hopefully gives pause to those of you across the United States who dedicate your lives (and that of your families) to the sport, to reflect on your role in the outcome of these events.

As many know, in 2012 I stepped away from my life on the “fast train” and elected to resign from the MLS-pool of officials, and subsequently stepped back from many other soccer-related endeavors. It was, frankly, the hardest decision of my life. Very few knew it was coming, and fewer still understood it. Many still have ideas of why I left, and most are wrong. But, it was a decision arrived at after, literally, years of reflection. My doubts about my pursuit of the “top” began almost as soon as my time in MLS began back in 2008/2009. It was always my goal to “get there”, but once there I asked “what now?” I never came up with a definitive answer. My family and friends who supported by referee career from the time I stepped on the field at 10 years old were my sounding board, and many pushed me to continue, and for many of the wrong reasons I did so until I finally worked up the courage to step away.

My life on the career track of refereeing was and will remain one of the most enjoyable periods of my life. Many, hell – most- of my best friends came from the days hanging out in blistering heat or freezing cold under tents vulnerable to lightning strikes and wind storms. These aren’t the “best friends” in the sense that many consider friendships, these are the types of friends that I can go for months (or, in some cases longer) without seeing, and yet when we run into one another it’s like we never missed a day. I’ll be forever grateful to the mentors who, in many cases, taught me more about life off the field than the stuff that went on between the lines.

That said, there reached a point where I had to pause and ask myself, “what next?” For a variety of reasons I asked that question, and, unfortunately, some of those reasons went back to a lack of support for further development. Some call it “politics”, others call it “favoritism”, I just call it “lack of vision.” I saw too many around me who were denied the opportunity to improve as a referee, not because of lack of skill or lack of desire or effort, but simply because someone else took over as “flavor of the month.” Frankly, I didn’t want to be “that guy” that at 40-some years of age would be discarded like an old sock simply because something new or “better” was coming along. The system was broken, the system IS broken. The sad thing is, the solutions are not difficult. Unfortunately, it appears that the people employed with the purpose of implementing them are incapable of seeing past their own short term goals and allegiances to to do what needs to be done.

Now, don’t mistake what I’m saying here. I did not leave the professional ranks because of anyone else, or because someone “screwed” me. Quite the contrary, I left for myself, for my family, and for my real career. My professional soccer career spanned a series of marriage, divorce, death of my mother, and loss of a job – most of which occurred in 2010 and 2011. I had plenty of reasons to walk away, and eventually I got the courage up and did so – and I’ve never looked back. Well, at least once I got past the withdrawal stage which lasted an excruciating 6 months. The comparison to a drug addiction is apt. I look at my life in the years since I walked away with joy and appreciation. I have a beautiful wife, and blessed family – about to grow by one, an incredible job, and wonderful friends. I would not change one thing about the decision, or the path forward since.

So, where does all this tie in to the current PRO/MLS/PSRA situation? It’s simply this: The men and women who continue to dedicate their lives to the sport and to the career DESERVE to have the sport and the career dedicate itself back to them in a fair and equal way. If a person is going to be asked to sacrifice career, family, friends, time and energy to become “the best”, then they absolutely deserve to be treated with a basic level of respect – both financially and otherwise. Up until now, the referees in this country have been involved in a one-way relationship. PRO and MLS appear to expect that this should continue. PSRA is standing up for a cause that is long overdue and will serve to benefit the development and retention of “the best” referees from the time they step on their first U10 field, to the time they carry the ball onto the field of a World Cup.

My involvement in the founding and floundering first years of PSRA make me intimately passionate about this subject. It pains me (and I’m trying to be polite here) to hear that fellow “brothers” in the referee ranks are stepping in to circumvent those who have given so much for the sake of helping ALL referees at all levels. I can’t force, and I don’t beg, but I would encourage ALL of my friends in the soccer community to give pause to your personal ambitions in soccer and reflect on the greater good here. For those “crossing the line”, I’ll leave you with this: “what next”?

Landis T. Wiley
Professional National Referee – Retired
Iowa

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