Ranking Refs on Reddit

Opinions of Officials Online

We all have that friend who is a total sports enthusiast and claims to know more than every referee they watch. Considering referees have the power to make decisions that can change the course of a game, they are bound to make some enemies – especially among extremely opinionated fans. And the internet has given power to viewers, allowing them to come together in adoration or distaste for a particular player, coach, or even referee.

We conducted an in-depth analysis of the most popular sports-focused Reddit communities, including r/MLB, r/baseball, r/NBA, and r/NFL, to determine which fan bases discuss referee actions the most.

Which fans are the most savage toward the referees of their favorite sports? Keep reading to find out.

Most Vocal? Basketball Fans

Taking both positive and negative mentions into consideration, basketball referees were talked about the most – around 10,000 more times than MLB officials, and around twice as much as NFL officials.

It's no secret that the NBA and basketball, in general, have been completely changed by social media. Players can now gain a strong social media presence and have heated discussions with other pros via verified accounts.

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Fans of the NBA also tended to talk about officials by name more than other professional leagues –double that of MLB referee mentions.

Officials in Control at Half Court

By far, the most discussed referee in the NBA was Tony Brothers. Brothers' officiating skills have been questioned publicly, with some fans even calling for his termination via Change.org petitions. One thread on the r/NBA subreddit titled "How is Tony Brothers a ref still?" accumulated over 250 comments and 1,200 upvotes before it was archived.


Although Jason Phillips was the most negatively mentioned official in the league, it hasn't interrupted his career goals or achievements. He was recently named the Replay Center Operations Principal for the NBA and will be part of the league's rule interpretation and review team.

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While sports fans have a range of emotions and personalities, which league has the friendliest fans toward referees? Baseball.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

The most discussed MLB official was Angel Hernandez, followed closely by Joe West. Hernandez, who first began in the National League in 1991, is regarded as one of the most controversial figures in the league, earning flak from MLB fans who tend to publicly point out his inadequacies as an umpire.

As he is currently in the midst of a discrimination lawsuit against the MLB, Hernandez is a hot-button topic, with his future in the league still to be decided.


Red Sox fans talked the most about umpire activity during pro games. There are no shortage of articles detailing how umpires have made poor calls leading to a team's loss, but even the Red Sox players have called out umpires for this reason.


Most Discussed Football Referees

Former cornerback Nate Jones was the most discussed official on the NFL subreddit. After gaining national attention as a special teams star on the Rutgers football team, the announcement that he would become an official sent waves through football forums, with fans sharing their differing opinions.


In terms of which teams' fans most talked about the good and bad of referees, New England's die-hards were the most likely to discuss their opinions on official play calling.

Although stadiums can be heard echoing with fans telling the referees to stick it where the sun doesn't shine, it's no skin off the officials' backs: NFL officials are estimated to walk away with over $200,000 in 2019, on average.

Major Sporting Events and Referee Mentions

The sporting event to garner the most referee attention online came during the 2019 NFL conference championships. Any type of final game or championship is going to be hotly contested; This series turned out to be no different, which left some fans feeling robbed.


The sporting event to garner the most referee attention online came during the 2019 NFL conference championships. Any type of final game or championship is going to be hotly contested; This series turned out to be no different, which left some fans feeling robbed.

Secondly, an extremely unexpected ending to Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers brought a significant amount of conversation about referee involvement, despite the team's historical rivalry fizzling to an end.

Many large-scale sporting events are highly influenced by the officials. As a result, other major events peaked in relevance in terms of referee involvement, such as when the Red Sox and the Athletics played (the Red Sox lost).

Notorious Referees and Passionate Fans

Every major sporting event is supported by the men and women who enforce the rules of the game. Although we may not agree with them all of the time, their jobs demand respect. Overall, fans are as passionate and opinionated about the players on the field as they are about the referees who enforce the rules.

Methodology and Limitations

To gather the data shown in the above study, we scraped and analyzed posts from r/mlb, r/baseball, r/nba, and r/nfl. Posts made on r/mlb and r/baseball were gathered from March 29–Sept. 30, 2018, as well as March 20–Sept. 29, 2019. Posts from r/nba were gathered from Oct. 16, 2018–April 10, 2019, and Oct. 22–No. 4, 2019, while posts on r/nfl were gathered from Sept. 6–Dec. 30, 2018, and Sept. 5–Nov. 4, 2019. Posts from r/baseball and r/mlb were combined to give a sample size of posts closer to that of r/nba and r/nfl.

All posts were gathered due to their mention of the general term "ref," "referee," "ump," "umpire," other variations involving the term and punctuation (such as "ref!" or "ref."), or specifically named an official for their league who was active in a past or current season. Textblob sentiment analysis was used to gather the sentiment of the posts containing mentions of either specific officials or general terms, such as "ref" or "referee."

Fair Use Statement

As fans, it can be easy to tell the referee to shove it. The next time you find yourself shouting, though, remember these findings. Feel free to share this project, but be sure to share it for noncommercial purposes only and include a link back to this page.