Watson vs. Prust, an in-depth analysis

In the first period of the Montreal-Tampa Bay game on Sunday evening, referee Brad Watson assessed a roughing penalty to Montreal’s Brandon Prust. Many viewers thought it a marginal call, and it seems, as in many penalty cases, that the penalized player had a few words for the referee. Unlike many cases, however, this time the verbal war between player and referee escalated, with TV cameras picking up referee Watson yelling and wagging his finger at Prust in the penalty box.

As a long time referee (20+ years of experience) with a commitment to upholding the rules of the sports I officiate without bias – and – as a Habs fan who has come to understand and respect Brandon Prust’s unique style of play and behaviour on the ice, I have a unique perspective to offer. I hope you’ll find this both informative and even-handed.

First, players complain on about 3/4 of all penalty calls. Players always see situations differently from referees. Whether because of the saintly way humans in general see their own actions, from their interest in their team winning, or just from a different angle of vision, we will have different viewpoints on what happened – sometimes literally. It is also common that these disagreements include certain choice words from player to referee. Like in every confrontational situation, there are lines to not cross. While these lines are largely subjective and their locations vary from official to official, there is one common rule among seasoned sports officials: if you’re going to criticize a referee’s decision, don’t make it personal. The expression goes: “the f-word won’t get you kicked out of a game; the y-word will.”

That y-word is “you”.

Brandon Prust’s version of the story is that he told Watson he thought the call was “soft”. If that is true, and that’s all that Prust said, then it should’ve ended there. Referees hear far worse than that on a regular basis and nothing comes of it. So, unless Watson was trying to bait Prust by making a very marginal call against him at the first opportunity, I doubt that that is all that Prust said.

When I first saw the penalty call, I had to rewind my PVR to see it again, because there was nothing penalty-worthy on that play until Prust saw Watson’s arm up. I looked again, and still – nothing. I took to twitter posting:

Unbelieveable that Referee Watson found 2 minutes in that Prust/Coburn sequence, let alone 4 minutes. What the hell is going on?

Well, it seems that the hell that was going on was that altercation between Prust and the calling referee.

Here’s a GIF of the stern finger-wagging talking-to that Watson gave Prust at the penalty box. (courtesy Stephanie Vail @myregularface)


There are a few things wrong with this picture.

First, notice how preoccupied referee Watson is making sure that his public address microphone is off. Are these the actions of someone who is saying something he wouldn’t mind people hear? I doubt it. I would guess that he knows that what he is saying is over a line, and he wants to make sure that there’s no public record of it.

Second, notice where Prust is looking – and more importantly, where he is not looking. He is not looking at all at the referee – exactly as he asserted in his post-game comments. While it is still possible that he is verbally abusing Watson while looking elsewhere, he is not looking at him or taking an aggressive posture against the referee. In fact, he is in the process of doing exactly what Watson ordered him to do – sitting down. There is NO reason for the referee to still be at the penalty box, let alone to be taking an aggressive posture against a player who is complying.

We are taught over and over to make our call and get out of the area. Watson would have been well-served to follow this basic advice.

Third, the finger wag. In addition to obviously raised voices, referee Watson decided to sternly wag his finger at Prust as if Watson were the father of a petulant child. While Prust can sometimes act that way, in no situation is it appropriate for a referee to lecture a player in this manner. Those who are accusing Prust of publicly shaming an official should look here for the beginning of that tale – where Watson publicly shamed a player. This is unacceptable – both ways.

If players and referees have something to say to each other, they should say it, and be done. Once a player has entered the penalty box and is in the process of sitting down, there is no reason for a referee to be standing over him, aggressively, waving his finger and yelling at the player. To do so only invites needless trouble and, in this case, it showed up right on cue.

If Prust is telling the whole truth that he confined his comments to Watson’s penalty call being “soft”, then there is no verbal abuse here. It is completely understandable that a player criticize a referee’s call in a reasonable tone, especially in a heated professional playoff series. The standard has been set, and that behaviour, however unlikely to be the whole truth, would fit neatly within that established standard. If it were the case, the blame would lie entirely with Watson for a grave overreaction.

If, however, Prust used more colourful language to protest the call, then Watson is still wrong to have reacted the way he did. Referees are the highest authority on the ice during a hockey game. They have tools that allow them to keep order in these exact situations, and they do not have to consult with anyone before using them. They are judge and jury. That’s a lot of power. To take a famous quote, though, with great power comes great responsibility: referees must not commit the same sins that their tools allow them to punish. Referees must always hold themselves to a higher standard, in large part due to the fact that the subordinate players they govern do not have the same ability to punish them when they lose control.

If Prust went on with his complaints for too long, used choice words, made his protest too loud or personal, then Watson would be well within his rights to assess more penalties – 2 minutes, 10 minutes, or a game misconduct, according to the rules of the game – the rules Watson is responsible for applying.

Prust accused Watson of “calling him every name in the book”. To that I simply answer, “so what?” This happens all the time. Name calling is, sadly, part of the professional game. I don’t like it, but it is.

The first real problem arises from Prust’s next accusation. If, as Prust asserts, Watson actually threatened to “drive [him] out of the arena” then that’s a big problem. When a referee starts seeing themselves as the person who gets to decide who plays and who doesn’t, they lose sight of their role in the game. I believe that the best referees are the ones who view themselves as guardians of the rules, not as being all-powerful. That, coupled with Watson’s extremely ill-advised decision to openly show up a player he has already penalized, made this situation much more difficult than it was, and than it needed to be.

Watson didn’t maintain the necessary higher standard the referees must hold themselves to. He chose a different path. Watson chose to embarrass a player, and by doing so, he not only crossed a line, but he opened the floodgates. It was his actions at the penalty box that opened the door for the shenanigans that followed. Instead of deescalating a situation on the ice, he was responsible for escalating it. And for what? To send a message? We must always remember that referees and players in these professional leagues are both adults, and both deserve respect.

When players don’t respect referees, there are consequences written into the rules of the game. Referees need only apply these consequences. When referees don’t respect players, there is a much bigger problem. While I don’t like the way Prust decided to seek relief from this problem, I can’t help but understand why he did it that way. People who feel backed into a corner and unfairly treated often lash out in extreme ways.

As a sports official who has thrown out hundreds of players and coaches for unsportsmanlike behaviour and verbal abuse, let me be perfectly clear: there is no place for it in sports. Respect must win the day. But, when it doesn’t, – players and referees are human, after all – referees must make absolutely sure to remain on the high road, use the tools they are given, and keep the situations – and themselves – in control. When we don’t, bad things tend to happen.

Last night, referee Brad Watson either forgot this rule or failed at applying it. Just as it did when Stephane Auger did it (much less demonstrably, I might add), that lapse may end up costing him his job.

As always, I invite your respectful comments below, even if you don’t share my view.


Where’s your focus?

On Sunday, the world commemorates an extremely important series of world events. Most of us remember where we were when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. I know I do. Going forward, though, this series of events allows us an inside look at ourselves and our attitudes. The events of this date that forever changed history (and the future) is excellent proof that in every situation, we have the power of choice.

September 11, 2001 is the day many remember vividly for the crashes, the falling skyscrapers, the terror, the senseless loss of life. These all happened, and there is a value in remembering this. However, there is another side too.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I remember the incredible generosity of, among others, the people of Gander, Newfoundland, who opened their arms and homes to people from around the world who were stranded in their small town because U.S. airspace was closed. They did not do this for any glory or praise, but because it is the Canadian thing, the human thing to do. They did it because they could. This also happened.

We have a choice on how we remember various events. In arguments with friends and family, in relationships, at work, at play, and everywhere we turn, we have the choice to place our focus on any number of details, some of which will leave us happy and others will leave us less so, or worse. Choose.

I invite everyone to look at various moments in your lives and take note of the moments where you have the power to choose and didn’t realize it, or acted like you had no choice at all. It is a wonderful feeling to realize that even in the seemingly saddest or angriest moments, we do have the power to focus on something else; to make it positive, to change our minds. Now that we know that we can, all we need to do – is do it. Start now. Choose.

(Message posted on 09/09 at 11:11pm)

Responsible choices

In honour of Saturday’s historic vote in the U.S. Senate to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, an appropriately-named compromise policy that allows gays and lesbians to serve in the U.S. military, provided that they don’t reveal that they are gay or lesbian, this blog entry is dedicated to the discussion of sexual orientation.  

A few weeks ago, a friend was among many Facebookers to post the following message:

“My wish is that people will understand that being gay is not a disease nor a choice – people who are gay are not looking for a cure but acceptance & equal rights. …”

It would have been easier to stay quiet, and had it not been for the inclusion of “nor a choice”, I might have just carried on with my day. I had something to say and I would hate to disappoint. Here is my response to that status, for your consideration:

“Homosexuality is definitely not a disease, but how do we know that it is not a choice? Consider how empowering it would be to all gays if it actually WAS a choice, rather than something they just had to “deal with”?

I was once told that if I didn’t have an obvious, objective, and indisputable answer for something, and was going to make up an explanation for it, that that explanation should be inspiring. I am inspired by the thought that everyone can choose who they are attracted to and who they choose to love, regardless of their gender.

Consider that to claim otherwise (i.e. that a person is “born gay”) is to claim that one’s sexuality is “not their fault”. It’s a form of self-protection against the bigoted and intolerant, whose opinions don’t matter anyway.”

The most enlightening opinion I have heard about this nature vs. nurture debate is that we are ALL born bisexual; that is, with the ability to love both men and women, and at various points in our lives we make decisions that move us along the sexuality spectrum, so to speak, between heterosexual and homosexual and perhaps in between them.

I’m not suggesting for a second that a child wakes up one day and exclaims “I’m going to be straight/gay.” I believe that the decision to pursue sexual/intimate partners and/or love in the same or opposite sex is a subtle decision made over time, based on experiences we are subjected to or choose to try on, comments and opinions we hear, the social environment we grow up in or expect we might grow up in, the success or failure of past relationships, the unreal interpretations we invent about how people see us and how we see people, the perception of how life *would* be if we chose one path over the other, one’s preferences for rebellion or conformity, and many, many, many more factors that we may or may not even be aware of. But, I do believe it is something that is controlled by each individual.

Another view I heard that opened my eyes was shared with me just the other day. I was asked to consider that perhaps there is such a stigma against gays and lesbians because, by default, people are assumed to be straight. Therefore, a person who says they are homosexual is going against the assumed grain. This might be the result of thousands of years where sexuality was only seen as a means of procreation. It could also arise from the tremendous (and, in my humble opinion, undue) influence we have allowed religion to have on our society and our beliefs. When the Catholic church can come out so harshly against gays and lesbians, can we really be surprised that the most powerful country in the world, with the most powerful armed forces, could publicly state that the presence of members who “demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts … would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability?” (excerpt from U.S. Code, Title 10, § 654. Policy concerning homosexuality in the armed forces).

Bigotry and intolerance breed the same. I was astounded when I heard that certification of the law (the process that actually makes the new law legal and in force) to repeal DADT would only be done after the U.S. military could successfully implement “training programs” designed to teach soldiers how to fight alongside gays and lesbians. NOTHING should change in terms of how two people have and now will interact with each other, support each other, or defend each other on the battlefield. Straight and gay soldiers have fought side-by-side for decades. The only difference that may arise now is that revealing one’s sexual preferences will no longer be a forced secret. That’s a good thing.

As someone who stands firmly for choice in every situation, I am proud to stand for a person’s choice of sexual partner, whatever that choice may be. What you do in your bedroom has no bearing on my life, and thus I have no right to tell you what you should or should not do there.

Repealing DADT will have a positive impact on our world, but it is only a small step. We all have a role to play in eliminating prejudice and bigotry. Those with antiquated views on sexuality need to open their minds to a new paradigm. Religious leaders need to stop the guilt, relinquish the emotional control they hold on people’s personal actions, and stop pretending to be the sole deciders of “right” vs. “wrong” in favour of respecting people’s right to choose their own course. The public at large needs to stop caring about their neighbour’s sexuality. And, gays and lesbians need to take responsibility for their ongoing choices, stop playing the victim, and stop drawing attention to their sexuality in one moment and then pleading for privacy in the next.

I have had numerous debates with people in blogs, on facebook, and elsewhere on the internet, where I have shared an opposite viewpoint. Unfortunately, in some of these cases, the original poster has been offended and has gotten angry. My view is clear. If you make your opinion known publicly, you must expect the possibility that someone will answer you just as publicly. If you put your sexuality on display in a public parade, you must expect that people might share an opinion on the subject on display. You don’t have to like what they say, but if you expect that people will respect your right to public self-expression, you must grant detractors and supporters alike that same respect.

And, speaking of public self-expression, what’s with gay “pride” parades? Making a parade about your sexuality an issue of “pride” invites questions as to why one feels the desire to share such “pride” so openly. When was the last time you were invited to a Straight Pride parade? Is our sexuality something to be “proud” of? And why do such parades have to involve scantily clad people parading in public? And how does being barely dressed indicate pride?

Consider instead that parades didn’t come about because of pride. Rather, they serve to publicize a struggle for acceptance, a cry that their community should be noticed. Sadly, the parades are the most public example of how gays and lesbians promote an “us against the world” paradigm. This approach is hurting the cause more than it is helping it.  The language surrounding the gay and lesbian lifestyle needs to change. In order for the world to stop focusing on gays and lesbians’ differences, they must stop focusing on this point themselves. Be attracted to who you want. Love who you want. Be who you want. But if you are going to “post” your sexuality in public for all to see, know that you are going to hear responses.

Only when a person takes responsibility for their words and their actions can they reasonably ask another person to be responsible for theirs. It is irresponsible to call the world’s attention to your sexuality only to then chastise those who criticize what they see. Only when someone respects themselves can they expect others to respect them. The sooner everyone takes on their responsibilities, the sooner we can tackle the next issue that is keeping people apart.

When can we put the past behind us and start on the path to positive change? Why not now?

What is “real”?

The computer you’re typing on, the chair you’re sitting in, the glasses you’re wearing and the one you’re drinking from are all real. The house you’re living in and the television you’re watching: those are real too.

However, your feelings, thoughts, interpretations, and emotions, all of them, are not real.

Now I have your attention, I’m sure.

I am not one to simply make a provocative statement and then walk away, so I invite you to play along with the following 2 scenarios as I explain what some of you may currently be saying is the latest proof of my craziness.

First, please imagine yourself standing in the park nearest to where you currently are. There is a line on the ground at your feet. In front of you, not 5 feet away, sits a 4-legged chair. Now imagine the entire population of your town or city (or the world, if your imagination is so vivid) standing behind you in a single-file line.

Your instructions are simple. Walk up to the line, then take up to 10 steps forward and report what happened, then move aside so the next person in line can do the same.

Assuming everyone follows the instructions, what will happen to every single person who plays this game?

They will walk into the chair. Every single person will walk into the chair. Without exception, young or old, black, white, brown, or purple, rich or poor, athletic or artistic, each of the thousands, millions, or billions of people you imagined will walk into the chair.

Consider, therefore, that the chair is real. Though that “chair” may be called different things depending on the person talking about it, the “thing” called “chair” or “chaise” or “ki-seh” or “silla” or however it is referred to, descriptively or not, is still real.

What makes the chair real? It is real because it occurs the same way to anyone and everyone who experiences it.

Now imagine yourself in a group of 300 people selected to attend a special screening of a movie, showing for the very first time. As in the last example, the instructions are simple. Watch the movie and, when it is over, answer questions about the movie and their experience of it.

After the credits roll, each of the 300 people are asked about their feelings, thoughts, judgments and interpretations about the movie.

How many different answers do you think will be given? Consider that there can be up to 300 different answers to these questions as the exact same movie can be felt, thought of, judged, and interpreted any number of ways. Each person has unique feelings, thoughts, judgments, and interpretations which may or may not come from their attitude, experience, history, fears, likes and dislikes, or some other source that they may or even may not be aware is having an impact on them.

Consider that this complete and utter inconsistency in response to the exact same input is our indication that FEELINGS, THOUGHTS, INTERPRETATIONS, EMOTIONS, JUDGMENTS, etc… ARE NOT REAL.

To be clear, I am NOT saying that feelings, thoughts, interpretations, emotions, and judgments do not occur. I am specifically saying that they are not REAL.

Now that the distinction has been made, why is it important and how can you use this knowledge?

Distinguishing what is real from what is unreal is crucial to maintaining our sanity and assists us in maintaining an attitude that is aligned with what we are committed to in life.

Knowledge alone that emotions are not real will not eliminate one’s “sadness” after a breakup or the death of a loved one. Similarly, that the emotion of “love” is not real will not invalidate the loving relationship that a person has with their spouse, child, parent, or pet. That the judgments of “right” or “wrong” are not real does not constitute an invitation to lawlessness or disrespect, and so on…

What this distinction allows is the ability, first, to understand the different impacts of “real” things vs. “unreal” things on our lives, and second, to choose how we deal with these things.

Something that is real, exists. That chair, for example, is real. Without the instructions given, if you do not want to walk into it, you can choose to walk around it, step onto it, perhaps even move it. Whatever you do, you cannot deny it. It is real. Your choice lies in what you do next, having accepted its reality.

Something that is unreal, simply, can be changed, transformed, replaced, ignored, or otherwise managed, simply by changing one’s mind.

I hear the chorus now – “but that’s very hard, Mark!” Perhaps, but “hard” is a judgment, and as such, it is not real. In the same way that you *said* “that’s hard”, you could have just as easily said “awesome! that’s easy! I’ll do it!”

To further illustrate the first example, a person walks into the chair and exclaims “Who put this stupid chair here? “Chair” is real, but “stupid” is not. The next person in line, after having followed the instructions, sees the chair and might choose to adjust their speed to minimize the effect of the impact when they, too, walk into the chair. Instead of going into a place of anger, blame, and resentment, the second person simply accepts the reality of the chair as well as its location, leaving them free to continue their life without the burden of the upset that the first person is now living with.

I doubt highly that any of us have encountered the chair-in-the-park scenario, so here’s one that’s a bit more plausible. As you drive, next to another car, at a decent pace down a narrow road behind a truck, the truck loses part of its load of carpentry nails. Both cars immediately slam on the brakes, but it’s too late, one has already pierced the front tire of your car as well as a tire on the car next to you. The tire loses pressure rapidly, and both cars are stuck. Ironically, both drivers were running late for meetings. This will not help.

One driver jumps out of his car and runs down the street trying to catch a glimpse of the license plate of the offending truck. This driver screaming about how irresponsible the driver is, how he’s going to pay for the tire, etc.. etc.. he is fuming mad! As the driver walks back to the car, disconsolate, he notices the other driver, also with a flat tire, calmly talking on the phone.

Two drivers, both with a flat tire (REAL), dealing with this reality in two dramatically different ways. The first driver refuses to accept his reality, while the second took a deep breath, realized that their flat tire wasn’t going to repair itself, accepted what happened, and took action to help his situation. The benefits to the second driver are clear and undeniable. He will accomplish more to the benefit of his situation and will suffer less on the emotional side simply because he chose not to resist reality.

In every situation, there are elements of reality and other elements that are not real. Said differently, these unreal elements are made up. The worst thing we could do is deny that we make things up. To confuse reality with our made up emotions, judgments, thoughts, interpretations, and feelings is sure to create a situation that will lead to a less-than-happy conclusion.

The key to success in the realm of reality has a few steps. First, admit that you make things up hundreds of times a day. Second, recognize that, in and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with making stuff up, provided that you recognize that you’re doing just that. Finally, remember the golden rule: “if you’re going to make things up anyway, only make up things that inspire you.”

Concretely, this rule will guide you well. It will remind you to stay away from making up negative-sounding stories about your mother, father, partner, neighbour etc… On the positive side, it will encourage you to make up any story that you want that brings you closer to these people and leaves you happy.

Just because love and happiness are unreal doesn’t mean you shouldn’t want, (read: make up) as much of them as possible. Go create an abundance of love and happiness in your lives. Every day, as often as possible. And when you find unreal negative emotions, judgments, thoughts, interpretations, and feelings at the forefront of your lives, you know what to do: change your mind. It’s easy.

Do you know why it’s easy? Because I said so.

If you don’t want to believe me, believe Henry Ford, who offers this succinct analysis of the power we give our unreal thoughts: “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”