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February 18, 2019

Angelo Cataldi: Officiating in American professional sports has never been worse

Opinion NFL
Joel Embiid Jalen Brown Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid reacts in front of Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown after scoring during the fourth quarter at Wells Fargo Center on Feb 12, 2019.

Has the officiating in American professional sports ever been worse than it is right now?

No, it hasn’t. This is rock bottom. I hope.

From a Philadelphia perspective, just go back to the first play of the Eagles-Dallas game three months ago, as egregious a misjudgment as any in recent history. Four different Eagles players surrounded the ball after a fumble, but director of officiating Al Riveron ruled that Dallas retained possession because he couldn’t determine which Eagle had the ball.

Even now, the ruling is inconceivable. Even now, it boils the blood.

Then there was last week, when games on back-to-back night were determined by the ineptitude of the officials. First the Flyers, down 2-0, lost a chance for a comeback against Pittsburgh because referee Kyle Rehman blew his whistle too soon during a scramble in from of the Penguin’ net. Ultimately the goal by Nolan Patrick was nullified by the gaffe.

Broadcaster Keith Jones called it “human error.” I called it blatant incompetence. Either way, it was a mistake so glaring, the NHL owed the Flyers an explanation. I was worried that maybe Rehman has suffered a stroke, or something. As usual, the official skated – literally – after the blunder.

The very next night, Al Horford smacked the shooting arm of Joel Embiid as the big center launched a shot that could have tied the game at 106 with 34 seconds left. No call. Check it out. It seems impossible for an official to miss that infraction. Where was he looking if not at the obvious contact between the two players?

Those were the biggest games of the season for our winter teams, at home, and horrific calls (or non-calls) determined the outcome. And we are hardly alone in being victimized by this rash of awful officiating. The Saints are still livid – and justifiably so – for the missed pass-interference call that ruined their season in the NFC championship game.

Unfortunately, I have no advice on how to correct these problems. I’ve been watching sports for too long, and have seen far too much of this kind of injustice, to have any hope for reform.

I just wish, at least once in a while, these terrible calls would go our way. Is that asking too much?

And finally . . . .

• It is now official. Markelle Fultz is the worst draft pick in Philadelphia history. If there were any doubt remaining, Fultz himself eradicated it with his insulting and idiotic news conference last week in Orlando. A Sixers organization embarrassed that it had wasted the first pick in the 2017 draft spent 18 months trying to motivate him, only to hear Fultz say: “It’s exciting to have coaches who won’t just tell you what you want to hear.” Wow. What a jerk.

• Maybe it’s just my hometown bias, but it looks like Denver made a huge mistake last week by choosing Joe Flacco over Nick Foles as its next starting quarterback. The Broncos gave up only a fourth-round pick for the veteran, but Foles has outperformed Flacco in every way over the past few years. Unless something dramatic happens, Foles is going to be a free agent in a couple of weeks. Does Broncos president John Elway really rate Flacco higher than Foles? If he does, he’s wrong.

• The whole sports world gasped last week when Colin Kaepernick took a reported huge settlement from the NFL in the ongoing national-anthem controversy. I yawned. Kaepernick embraced his role as a martyr far better than he did the job of starting quarterback over his final few seasons, and his dwindling skills were completely lost in the agenda-driven debate that followed. Now that he’s got his money, can Kaepernick finally just go away, please?

• The hardest roster decision the Eagles will have in the next few weeks is what to do with Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, who is scheduled for a $13-million paycheck. Peters is still an inspiration in the clubhouse, but he is a physical wreck on the field. At 37, he is simply not worth the risk of another season of bumps and bruises. Football is a cold business. Peters has to go.

• Last week, after a “thorough investigation” that included “deep research,” the Cleveland Browns signed Kareem Hunt to a contract. Hunt is the star running back who was caught on camera physically abusing a woman in a Cleveland hotel lobby, an act that led to his immediate release from the Kansas City Chiefs. This exhaustive probe conducted by Browns GM John Dorsey did not include a conversation with the victim of the assault. That’s right. The Browns didn’t talk to one of the two people involved. Only one question remains: How would Dorsey have described his investigation if he had actually talked to both people?