NCAA Basketball referee Ted Valentine was removed from two games by the Big Ten Conference for misconduct during a game. While that does happen from time to time, his comments about his conflict resolution training leave me scratching my head.
The incident took place with just over seven minutes remaining in the [North Carolina vs. Florida State] game. [NC guard Joel] Berry [II] appeared to be held by Seminoles guard Terance Mann as he tried to catch an outlet pass which sailed out of bounds. Valentine was standing on the opposite baseline and awarded possession to Florida State. As Berry gathered the ball and walked over to Valentine to argue the call, Valentine put his hands up as if to ask Berry to hand him the ball. When Berry continued to complain, Valentine turned his back and folded his arms. After a couple of seconds, Valentine turned back toward the court, Berry gave him the ball, and the game resumed.
Here’s the puzzling explanation from Valentine (with my bolding):
Valentine explained that he turned away from Berry out of a desire to avoid a confrontation. “I turned my back for one second. I didn’t turn it for the whole time,” he said. “Over the last two or three years, I’ve taken conflict resolution classes. In a conflict resolution class, they teach you to turn away.”
I teach conflict resolution. We do not teach what Valentine did. Turning away is not the most effective way to de-escalate a conflict, especially given that Berry didn’t seem all that irate. The best way to de-escalate is to converse. Valentine should have heard Berry out. By turning his back on Berry, he gave Berry the message that he’s unimportant and not worth talking to. Also, ask yourself how you would feel if you had a gripe you thought legitimate and the person you wanted to speak with turns their back and folds their arms. You’d probably get more upset, not less.
In addition, Valentine is a position of authority. He has a responsibility along with the other two referees to control the game. By turning his back on Berry, Valentine ceded that authority. If he thought Berry was “showing him up” he should have given him a technical foul. Whether the Big Ten suspending him for two games was wise is debatable (NCAA referees are independent contractors so he would lose two game checks). His controversial conduct was in an ACC game and the ACC offered a replacement game to Valentine.
Your takeaway: turning your back on someone to de-escalate should not be your first move. Your first move is to find out why the other person is angry.