On Super Bowl Sunday, the eyes of the world turn to their television sets to tune in the big game. No matter which team you’re rooting for, there’s one group of people on the field who can play a big part in how the game turns out. Who are they? The referees, of course!

A referee is a neutral party who oversees a game and makes on-the-spot decisions about enforcement of the rules of the game. In addition to referee, such persons are often called by other terms in various sports, such as umpire, judge, linesman or timekeeper.

The term referee got its start in soccer. Early on, two teams would simply nominate captains who would consult with each other if a dispute arose. Over time, teams began to bring along a separate person — called an umpire — just to oversee their games, so that captains could concentrate on playing the game.

Eventually, teams figured out that a third neutral official was needed to oversee games. This official would be “referred to” if the teams’ umpires couldn’t come to an agreement regarding a dispute.

This third neutral official became known as the referee, or the one to whom disputes were referred! The umpires eventually became what we today call linesmen or assistant referees.

In American football, the referee supervises the play of the game and has final authority over all on-field rulings. The referee has a team of up to six other officials who help him.

These other officials are also commonly called referees. However, they also have official titles based upon their position and responsibilities, such as head linesman, line judge, umpire, back judge, side judge and field judge.

Referees usually wear clothing that distinguishes them from the players to avoid confusion on the playing field. For example, in soccer, referees often wear either solid black or bright colors (blue, yellow, green or orange). In most North American sports, referees wear vertical black and white stripes.

So how did the zebra-like uniform come to be? Legend has it that the striped uniform was developed by Lloyd Olds, a high-school and college referee from Michigan.

As the story goes, he usually wore a solid white shirt. At a college football game in 1920, the visiting team also wore white. When their quarterback mistakenly handed off the football to Olds, he knew he had to come up with a different uniform.

Olds decided that wearing stripes would be the best way to avoid confusion. He had a friend make him a black and white striped shirt, which he wore for the first time during the 1921 state basketball championships. Other referees saw his outfit and started copying it. The rest, as they say, is history!

 

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