The game is tight. The decisions are tough. The clock is ticking. The announcers are crucifying your crew. Ever been there?
My game wasn’t the biggest game of the month, but one year I worked the championship game of the NCAA Division II women’s basketball tournament. During this game, we are in the fourth quarter of a fairly tight game and the book keeper, the score keeper, and the play-by-play are all disagreeing with whether a star player has three fouls against her or four. I am the referee on the game and my alternate is truly stuck between a rock and hard spot because while she is charting fouls, she is not keeping the players fouls.
Oh its a cluster! But while I spend the next few minutes sorting out the discrepancy ( and the tiff between the table crew), my partner notifies the television talent of the situation. For the next three minutes of dead air time, the television talent took the time to explain the situation AND give our crew great accolades for how we were communicating and how we had handled a tough game so far, etc. etc. They were going out of their way to show up mercy.
Honestly, I didn’t think Holly Rowe, ESPN Sideline reporter, ever gave officials mercy. She always seemed to be the most critical of our decisions, always trying to make controversy over plays and calls that, when reviewed against the rule book and the latest points of concern, seemed damn good (and tough) calls. I simply was not a fan of Rowe.
Then life hit Rowe in the gut and she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I began to feel empathy for Rowe. I even sat a row behind her on a plane ride home from a game without kicking her seat. Okay forgive me for even thinking about doing it. But, I genuinely began to pray for healing. I began to feel some form of compassion for her.
Then it was kind of strange because I started sensing her softer personality and questions on the sidelines of the big games. And now, reading an article I see that Holly Rowe will will receive the 2018 Woman of Inspiration Award, the Connecticut Sun’s annual homage to courage, conviction and character, Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena. In the article I see a quote from her.
“One of the women’s basketball officials was going through breast cancer,” Rowe said. “She was trying to find a wig to officiate with. But it’s hard because you sweat as you run up and down the floor. When she saw me on TV, she said, ‘if you went on TV bald, screw it, I’ll be bald officiating my games.’ If one person’s had an easier moment because I’ve gone through this, that matters to me.”
And then it hits me. She has gone through this terrible diagnosis, fought the hard fight to be in remission and she has come heart to heart with one of our fellow officials who fought the same fight. She now sees us as humans, with hearts and struggles and medical issues just as she. I am deeply sorry that either Rowe or the official had to face breast cancer. I hate it for them, just as I hate if for my dear friend who is fighting it now. But one of the beautiful silver linings of the dark dark clouds is that Holly Rowe now has more compassion than ever (as she says in the article) and she understands that officials are people too.
Holly Rowe you have won me over and I hope you are the sideline reporter on my biggest games in the future. Continue the great work of humanizing the sidelines, capturing the bigger story, and holding officials accountable. Here is to doing life in front of the camera. #RefereeRpeople2