- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2006

A one-eyed football official has filed a lawsuit against the Big Ten Conference in order to reclaim his job.

Jim Filson insists one functional eye can be the equal of two, and he has five seasons as a one-eyed official in the Big Ten to confirm it.

His suit contends he was not granted a sixth season after Michigan coach Lloyd Carr complained to the commissioner about the peripheral-vision limitations of a one-eyed official.

That complaint is not necessarily insensitive in an endeavor that spares the sensitivities of no one.

Railing against officials is as much a part of the background noise as demanding that a coach be fired.

The eyesight of basketball referees, football officials and baseball umpires is especially in doubt these days because of the proliferation of replays from every possible angle.

Those with two good eyes routinely miss calls.

A one-eyed official is inclined to miss more calls than a two-eyed official unless two eyes have become redundant through evolution.

Filson claims he received higher performance ratings with one eye than two and even was rewarded with an Orange Bowl assignment one season.

Filson’s suit was filed under the National Disabilities Act, and it raises all kinds of unsettling questions that extend beyond the seeing capacity of a one-eyed official.

Football and basketball officials, in particular, are expected to be in good aerobic shape, which could be construed as a discriminatory requirement by the overweight or the physically challenged.

The same claim could be made by a wheelchair-bound person seeking to become an official.

Filson’s legal pursuit would be easier to dismiss if he had not repeatedly passed the standards of his profession. He was deemed a competent official, one eye or not, and no one considered his disability an impediment until long after he had addressed any potential misgivings.

Otherwise, seeing is a necessary function of officiating, and it could be assumed that two eyes are better than one, even more so in a profession that requires split-second decisions.

That proposition is particularly topical in a pursuit as subjective as officiating.

The gray area between holding and not holding is vexing. The same with pass interference. Two eyes are often not enough.

Jim Delaney, the Big Ten commissioner, had a good reason to pull his support of Filson.

If Filson ever were involved in a controversial officiating decision that determined the outcome of a game, Delaney would be one of the targets of criticism and apt to be an ex-commissioner.

In a business with so many dollars and jobs at stake, a commissioner would have a hard time justifying his decision to employ a one-eyed official if the official’s miscue cost a team a bowl appearance.

That consideration no doubt prompted the termination of Filson after a coach was said to raise an objection.

No matter how able Filson was as an official, one error in judgment on his part would have raised the hackles of the aggrieved and tapped into the long-held sentiment that all officials are blind.

If Filson’s bid to return is successful, it at least would shift the burden of responsibility from the commissioner’s office to the courts.

If so, it won’t satisfy all the Big Ten coaches whose livelihoods are dependent on the quality of their won-lost records.

Football coaches, by the nature of the game’s weekly pace, are forever trying to control events that could undermine their interests.

A one-eyed official, fair or not, is a potential threat to those interests.

There are no bad guys here, just guys with powerful self-interests.

Filson wants to continue in a profession he loves, and the Big Ten’s caretakers have every reason to want the best for their coaches and teams.

Filson is perhaps the exception to two eyes being better than one because of his dedication and experience.

Now he is attempting to be a precedent as well.

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