Friday Night Lights by The Honorable Rossie D. Alston Jr.

The smell of hamburgers cooking in the air, the sound of the band trumpeting the virtue of the home team, the sight of the colors of the opposing teams setting the stage for sport in its purest form; not for money, not for ego, not for celebrity, but rather for the love of the game and of competition.

My senses and emotions are heightened every Friday night in the fall when I take the field to “officiate” (those of you who do not know the proper terminology would say “referee”) a high school varsity football game. This is an avocation I have enjoyed for nearly twenty years. It is an endeavor that allows me to (sometimes anonymously), in my white polyester knickers and my Foot Locker employee shirt to resolve disputes without the benefit of discovery or argument. I do not get the benefit of a deputy sheriff and a gavel to support me in my deliberations. Rather I have a whistle and a yellow flag. Just like a trial judge, I am required to make decisions on fouls (we lawyers would call them “objections”) spontaneously and efficiently. However, unlike the courtroom, where the competitors as part of decorum are required to accept these rulings without vocal dissent, the decisions I make on the football are immediately evaluated and analyzed through the boos, catcalls and questioning of my heritage. I love it!

Sometimes we lawyers and judges tend to forget how important it is to be a part of the community in which we work and live. For me, being a part of my community is critical, in my humble opinion, to aid in enhancing the public perception of our profession. My involvement in football officiating, in my adult softball league and in my church gives me the opportunity to let the folks in my community know that the concept of “community” is so very important to me and many others in the legal profession.

According to (the internet “binding authority” for purposes of defining terms), the term “community” is defined as:

  1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
  2. a locality inhabited by such a group.
  3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually prec. by the): the business community; the community of scholars.

What greater common cultural heritage is there in America other than high school football? Where else can you expect to find a good number of the people who live in the place inhabited by such a group (that community) other than a football field on Friday night? Where does the confluence of social, religious, occupational and common interests best come together other than a football field on Friday night?

You have the football players, you have the band, you have the cheerleaders, you have the fans, you have the parents, you have the educators…and through my rather insignificant contribution, you have the legal profession represented.

For me, being a football official and a member of the legal profession have several interesting parallels. No matter what a person does in life, improvements can always be made. Football officials improve their ability to officiate by educating themselves and others on a continual basis. Obviously we lawyers and judges continue to educate ourselves through CLEs, seminars and other educational pursuits. The need for constant education among football officials is often demanded by the rigorous and pressure-filled situations that they face during games. Does this sound familiar to what we do in the legal profession?

I recently read an interesting quote in a USA Football Magazine article. The quote read "Continuing education for us is absolutely vital because the rules are constantly changing or being tweaked. It's necessary for us to keep an eye on what the changes are, how they affect different aspects of the game and to see what the affect will be over the years." This quote was attributed to Jonathan Kosarin a football official with over 35 years experience. Guess what? Kosarin is a lawyer who currently serves as president of the Northern Virginia Football Officials Association. I am not making this stuff up!

So what does this all mean? I think our Virginia State Bar President Jon Huddleston set the bar through his administration’s  goal of highlighting the community involvement of lawyers throughout the Commonwealth through YouTube and articles such as these.  As you probably know, Mr. Huddleston is using YouTube to showcase the good deeds lawyers all across Virginia are doing, often anonymously and without recognition. As Mr. Huddleston has pointed out “Overwhelmingly, ours is a profession that gives back to the community.”
And while the enjoyment I get out of football officiating pales in comparison to whatever it is I am giving back to the community, I would simply suggest that we as a profession should be ever mindful of how we are perceived by the individuals who make up the general public.

As Blutarski (played by John Belushi in the classic film Animal House) in an effort to accomplish his concept of community once said: “Who’s  with me. Let’s go!

Where are my knickers and whistle?  It’s got to be Friday night somewhere.    
© 2010 The Honorable Rossie D. Alston Jr.

The Honorable Rossie D. Alston Jr. is a Judge with Court of Appeals of Virginia

View other Reflections essays


Updated: Feb 25, 2010