Gross Misconduct, Expulsion and control

Towards the end of last year I dealt with my first Gross Misconduct and Expulsion as a Head Referee. As GMs go, it was pretty typical. Player gets a penalty called on them and does not agree with the referee’s opinion. Player starts to scream obscenities at referee and is called on a Misconduct and sent to the penalty box. Break is called between jams, referee calls an Official Time Out and comes and tells me about the situation. I call all the referees into the middle, we huddle and discuss. The whole crew agrees that the behavior warrants Expulsion. I approach the player and inform her of the GM & Expulsion, escort her to the change rooms and the game continues.

I am excited when I see the pictures of this situation. I am relieved to see that my face does not look angry, my body language does not seem aggressive, I appear to be 100% in control. From the start to the end of the situation I did what needed to be done: I facilitated communication between the officials to get all the information, I maintained composure despite being yelled at by the skater and booed by the crowd and afterward I stayed in my stripes and HR hat until the paperwork had been done. I was ‘in control’ in all the minutes where I felt that being ‘in control’ mattered and then I went back to letting the game happen around me and making sure that all the things that needed to happen happened to make sure the right team won.

Initially I was thinking about the difference between ‘taking control’ and ‘being in control’ but I quickly discovered that ‘control’ seems to be a dirty word when it comes to refereeing roller derby and particularly when it comes to the Head Referee’s job.  But then again, ‘control’ seems to be a dirty word generally. I am not sure why we are so scared of the word ‘control’.

What follows is a Facebook conversation that happened on my page in December last year when I started to think about the HR and control on the track:

Me: Head refs I know – would you say that HRing is more about ‘taking control’ of the game rather than ‘being in control’ of the game? Or am I playing semantic games with myself again?

KP: I would say its all about facilitating a smooth and consistent flow of the game rather than anything about control.

AA: You’re playing with semantics. And like KP said above me, it’s not really about control, rather being that central point of communication.

GM: It’s about being in control… You may need to take control when things start to spiral, but if u are in control that shouldn’t occur….

Me: Okay, KP & AA. but doesn’t the facilitation of smooth communication involve maintaining some level of control over yourself and to some extent your surroundings? Is it better if we frame it as self-control to facilitate the facilitation?

Me: And GM, I think that things will always happen that are beyond anyone’s control. And it is all in the difference between ‘in’ and ‘take’.

GM: But the unknown and unknown are always the variable, which then requires the different control….

KP: I still disagree with HRs doing any sort of controlling – that would imply we stamp some sort of personal effect on the game.
During those parts of bout day when the clock is not running, HR is very much about management – of rosters, schedule, EMTs, venue, captains and other officials. When the clock is running, the HR is just a pack ref who also says No Pack, Pack is here.

G: Maybe control is the wrong word, but the ref obviously do control it without their actions influencing the outcome of the bout…

Me: Management would seem to be a good word for it.

AA: Ninja’d by a whole minute. Management is indeed an excellent word for the process.

Me: Oxford: Manage:- to be in charge of or make decisions; Control:- the power or authority to direct order, or manage. I will ferment.

AA: “Facilitation” then. We try not to change the outcome, we make sure there *is* an outcome.

G: Hmmmm influence instead of change….

AA: Influence, change, affect. (In decreasing order of positive connotation.)

DJ: There is a certain amount of ‘control’. You control the pace of the game (no extended time outs, no unnecessary Official Time Outs,) you also control the ‘safety’ of a game. I have no problems if the game starts getting excessively dangerous due to illegal play, calling the Captains together to let them know the game is getting out of hand and needs to be reigned in. Call the rules within the guidelines, but keep the emotions cool for yourself and try to keep the players from becoming over emotional and turning into a volcano. I wouldn’t say however that the HR’ing is about resuming control, but it is about facilitating a fairly officiated, safe, and unbiased sport.

Me: Thanks DJ and all. I think sometimes I write myself into tangles.

What KP said, ‘When the clock is running, the HR is just a pack ref who also says No Pack, Pack is here’, is true to a point. And I can also see that what happens outside of game time is definitely management but I also think that a lot of what happens in game time needs to be examined as management in practice with the role of the Head Referee seen as a central hub of … and see, that is where the word control would be if I wasn’t so concerned about its CONNOTATIONS.

I write about power and control in an academic context. I get structures of control and how they function. My initial inquiry about ‘taking control’ versus ‘in control’ was predicated on the difference between ‘taking’ something (‘taking’ implying that something needs to be snatched at, held onto) and being ‘in’ something (which implies an immersion or induction into something). I was wondering how the brain would internalise control differently within these two dichotomous frameworks.

But I still wonder why control is a dirty word.

There are several elements here that need to be examined. The first is the role the HR has on the track, their position within the referee crew as denoted by the word ‘head’ in their title. The second is the breakdown of what this role asks of the HR, whether they are asked to act as ‘just a pack ref’ or if the connotations of the ‘head’ title also imply further responsibilities and obligations than the average pack ref has. The third thing (which maybe should be the first) is the judgment value (or lack of value) implicated in the word control.

The Head Referee is, like KP stated, is ‘just another pack ref’. They skate as an Inside Pack Ref and their (usual) primary role is to define the pack (for more information about how roller derby is played and what the pack is see About: Roller Derby). They also act as a hub of communication for other officials in the game and are the only conduit for communication between players and officials. The rules say the following about  the HR:

9.1.2 One referee is designated Head Referee; the HR is the ultimate authority in the game. The HR will assign positions and duties to   the other referees and non-skating officials.

9.1.1.2 The HR is the only referee with the authority to expel a skater, manager or coach. All other referees and officials must make recommendations to the HR if they observe actions which warrant expulsion.

So the HR is primarily just another pack ref but one whose obligations before, during and after a game are extended far beyond that of a simple pack ref by the words ‘ultimate authority’. The HR is just another pack ref who is charged with the duty to expel skaters, managers or coaches and the responsibility of selecting and placing referees and non-skating officials. While the HR will most likely ask for input and feedback from their crew before enforcing an expulsion, they are the one who steps up to the task of expelling a skater from a game. So the HR is another pack but one who is charged with enforcing overarching (and often unpopular) decisions.

I get the impression that enforcing these kind of calls is easier in most other sports. Sports where the officials are accredited through an external body, trained separate to players and turn up to their gigs, ref the game and then walk away until their next game. Roller derby is not like this. In modern roller derby officials are (usually) affiliated with at least one club. We train and learn with the skaters and, as such, really get to know the people we ref regularly. There are travel opportunities, away games, but for most refs these are the minority compared to the bouts and scrimmages we officiate for the leagues we skate with. (True, this set up does lead to many discussions about bias and the perception thereof – but this is a topic for a totally different post.) The skater that I expelled from the game last year is someone I would call a friend at any other time… but not when I’m wearing my stripes.

By walking into that venue and putting on the stripes as HR I knew there was a chance of this situation arising. I knew that the obligations and responsibilities of the gig meant that I would be making unpopular decisions. I knew there was a strong chance I would walk out of the venue with more than one friend seething in my general direction. Don’t get me wrong – I have had skaters seethe at me as a pack ref many times but (not surprisingly) the seethe from an expulsion from the playing area is very different to the seethe from a whole minute in the penalty box.

So while the HR job is primarily that of another pack ref who defines the pack, I would argue that the connotations of the term ‘Head” and the responsibilities placed on the HR by the rules legitimise an examination of how control is enacted in this position.

To return to the linguistic tango I would like to look more closely at a couple of the statements about control made by HRs in that discussion:

I still disagree with HRs doing any sort of controlling – that would imply we stamp some sort of personal effect on the game.

Again, I can see the logic behind this statement if we look at the usage of ‘control’ as it appears derogatorily in the phrase ‘control freak’. (Def:- a person who feels an obsessive need to exercise control over themselves and others and to take command of any situation.) This usage implies an individual who forces their control onto others, often in a non-consensual fashion. The control freak will attempt to stamp their ‘personal effects’ on anything and everything as the control allows them to feel stable and safe in their world. The control freak gives control a bad name.

So to move beyond those negative connotations let’s have another look at  the definitions of ‘control’ and ‘management’ that I posted in that thread:

Oxford: Manage:- to be in charge of or make decisions; Control:- the power or authority to direct order, or manage.

The HR has been given ultimate authority over the game by the rules. They manage the rosters, communication and in-game situations like expulsions – they are ‘in charge of making the decisions’. And how do they gain the ability to be able to make these decisions? By tapping into control, the ‘power or authority to … manage’.

And so we return to my original question of ‘taking control’ versus ‘being in control’ which I think was answered by this statement: It’s about being in control… You may need to take control when things start to spiral, but if u are in control that shouldn’t occur…

‘In’ and ‘take’ are two sides of the control coin. While being ‘in control’ will work a lot of the time, sometimes there will be moments as a HR when you need to ‘take’ control. But this control need not always be externally enacted nor even visible to those you are working with/officiating. It could be argued that much of the control which  HR wields in a game comes in the form of self control or good management practices.

I think that if the structures of control (internal, administrative and communication wise) are in place before the game starts then the processes of facilitation will run just as predicted by DJ:

There is a certain amount of ‘control’. You control the pace of the game (no extended time outs, no unnecessary Official Time Outs,) you also control the ‘safety’ of a game … Call the rules within the guidelines, but keep the emotions cool for yourself and try to keep the players from becoming over emotional and turning into a volcano. I wouldn’t say however that the HR’ing is about resuming control, but it is about facilitating a fairly officiated, safe, and unbiased sport.

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