The relationship between sports referees and fans/followers of sport has been, at best, a contentious one filled with unending amounts of distrust, at least from the perspective of those doing the sports-watching.
Every bad call, every missed call and every call that goes against your team comes back on the officials, whether the judgment call was made with malice or not. Referees have been accused of everything from fixing games to favoring certain teams over others; from deliberately missing calls and to making up calls to correct previous mistakes. The fact is, it's hard to find any other profession that is publicly scrutinized in such a severe manner.
Politicians maybe, but it's doubtful the level of distrust aimed at public officials is that much higher than sports referees.
A word to wise, however: If you are going to criticize these guys, you might want to be somewhat vague with your accusation, especially if you're using Twitter to voice your complaint. Just ask Jon Krawczynski, a reporter for the Associated Press. While reporting on an NBA game between Houston Rockets and the Minnesota Timberwolves on January 24 of this year, Krawczynski posted the following tweet about referee Bill Spooner:
Ref Bill Spooner told [Minnesota Timberwolves head coach] Rambis he'd "get it back" after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That's NBA officiating folks.
And now, Spooner is suing Krawczynski for defamation. For his troubles, Spooner is asking for "more than $75000," and he's asking the tweet in question be removed, while Krawczynski issues a retraction.
While this writer is certainly not an expert in libel and defamation, because Krawczynski's tweet was so specific, Spooner's lawsuit may just have some legs. Had the post been more benign, something like "Looks like Spooner's going the make-up call route" or something along those lines, one would think the lawsuit would simply fizzle out and die. That, however, is not the case. Krawczynski's tweet, which still stands as of this writing, reads like he's attributing a quote directly to Spooner.
Again, I'm not entirely sure if that distinction makes any difference, but it wouldn't be surprising if Spooner got his way. With that in mind, The legal counsel for the AP is standing by Krawczynski and his tweet.
As for the calls in question, the Minnesota sports portal at SBNation.com offers this take on Spooner's behavior:
Despite what was or wasn't actually said, the play-by-play from that night's game shows that Patrick Patterson was called for an offensive foul less than 30 seconds after the original foul was called and then called for a foul on the defensive end 10 seconds later. Patrick Patterson has had his share of foul trouble this season, but two fouls in ten seconds following the alleged exchange does seem interesting.
Make-up calls are an unwritten part of sports, so unwritten in fact, the very idea sounds like it comes from the Fight Club script: "The first rule of make-up calls is we do not talk about and/or even acknowledge make-up calls, especially on Twitter."
Now we'll see if it's an enforceable rule.
Of course, if the legal proceedings are conducted much like an NBA game is officiated, Krawczynski better hope he's the home team.