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Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on November 26th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 38 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 38

The call heard round the world: Lance Easley on the 2012 Packers-Seahawks game

BY KRISTINA SEWELL


VIA YOUTUBE.COM

This call will more than likely never be forgotten. If you need a refresher of this controversial decision follow this link.

Perhaps one of the greatest phenomena of our human existence is how drastically and quickly our lives can change. In an instant, things can go from good to bad before we are even aware of what’s happening.

This same anomaly has been carried out time and time again in professional sports. In a moment, a no-name athlete can make one play and be catapulted into the spotlight, while a former beloved star falls from grace for a dropped pass or missed basket. Last year in professional football, we learned that referees—the keepers of the game—are not above experiencing this sort of shift.

Santa Marian Lance Easley probably understands this circumstance better than most. You might recognize the name, if you follow football. Last year, as a replacement referee for the NFL during the referee strike, Easley made one call—the results of which turned his life into an unbelievable saga of hatred, threats, and unwanted notoriety.

Within a span of eight seconds, Easley’s quiet life was suddenly filled with unbearable noise. Before 18 million viewers, Easley, a former U.S. Marine, became the most hated man in American sports. One year later, the noise is somewhat dimmed and Easley continues to pick up the pieces.

In an interview with the Sun, the former referee reveals details of the call heard round the world and the backlash, as well as the importance of standing by decisions, and how he has learned to overcome the negativity of celebrity.

 

On the field

It was a cold August night in Seattle—perfect weather for Monday Night Football. With less than two minutes left in the game, the Green Bay Packers trailed behind the Seahawks 12-7. Easley can recall every second leading up to the moment that changed his life.

“When I saw [both players] go up, I knew this was going to be a gray area call,” he said. “I prayed that when I got to the pile one guy had the ball, but instead there were equal men with equal strength wrestling over the ball.”

Here’s a recap of the play: With just seconds on the clock, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson looked toward the end zone where two Seahawks receivers were being swarmed by five Green Bay defenders. In a classic “Hail Mary” play, Wilson launched the pigskin with the hope that one of his receivers would come down with the ball.

Instead, Seahawk Golden Tate and Packer Greg Jennings ended up fiercely grappling for it. According to Easley, there is no record of a simultaneous possession on a Hail Mary ever happening in the NFL. The NFL rulebook, he said, states that a simultaneous catch goes to the offense. As soon as he made the call, Easley said pandemonium ensued on the field.

“Referees are the neutral party on the field and make split-second decisions. I can’t change the call,” he said. “There has never been a call like this on the field before.”

Easley said that the post-game calamity was overwhelming.

“That Monday night my phone was blowing up. I truly was sleepless in Seattle,” he said. “I went to bed with everything weighing on me, [but] I thought it would blow over.”

But the following few days proved that the storm was going to stick around, especially when the referee woke up to find that he was more popular than Kim Karadashian on Twitter.

And that was just beginning.

 

The fall-out


FROM ZERO TO ANTI-HERO
All it took was eight seconds for Lance Easley to go from small-town guy to one of the most hated men in American professional sports. The event inspired the former official to co-write a novel about his experience.
PHOTO BY STEVE MILLER

Later that week, post-call chaos was still raging. Easley’s phone was ringing off the hook with interview requests that were quickly rebuffed by the NFL. Photoshopped pictures of Easley also appeared on the Internet.

“Every channel was ‘Lance Easley this’ and “Lance Easley that,’” he said. “The media was knocking down my door in Santa Maria—it was like the Twilight Zone.”

 The incident went viral, beyond the world of sports and into news, and soon Easley’s ordeal became a popular joke for comedians like Jay Leno. Newspapers in Israel, Greece, and Europe made reports of the event as well.

By the time Easley reached the Friday after “the call,” he was quickly approaching his limits. He was all over television and the butt of many jokes and advertisements, and he had a cell phone with a vast collection of hateful voicemails. He shared some of those messages with the Sun:

“How much did you get paid, you stupid sicko? You cheat, you lying, no-good bum! Do you know how close I was to being out of debt? Five grand, that’s how close! You stole it out of my hands! Stole it!” screamed one fan.

“You owe me $1,200, you idiot. That’s what you cost me! Are you gonna put a check in the mail or what? ’Cause you can be found. You know you can,” hissed another.

And another: “I hope you die. ... I hope your wife dies. ... I hope your whole family dies in a car crash.”

The messages are endless and become increasingly hateful as they progress. But the vitriol didn’t stop there for the Santa Maria resident.

“The media were parked down the street waiting with cameras; people were going through our trash,” Easley said. “We had to shut things down for a week. I was more concerned about the people around me.”

The referee remembers an incident in which a suspicious package was sent to his home, which police later discovered contained a box of Wisconsin cheese curds. Easley and his wife, Corina, also had to have security details at their home and their places of work due to numerous threats. Easley’s son has had to take some time off from his own refereeing due to the incident.

Easley said he and his wife are sometimes still nervous when they go out. They both altered their Facebook accounts to deter any further hate messages. Unfortunately, for this former referee, the memory of sports fans tends to be a bitter one. But rather than hide away, Easley has chosen to stand by his decision, with a strong Christian faith as his guidepost.

 

Decisions, decisions

Easley’s story is no longer a matter of right versus wrong—it is a story that highlights the skewed emphasis placed on professional sports and the unprecedented vitriol flowing from sports fans onto Easley’s doorstep.

The circumstances of Easley’s situation cannot be ignored. At the time of the Seahawks-Packers game in 2012, the NFL was at a stalemate in negotiations with its referees, which forced the league to reach out to lower-level officials to take over the games until an agreement was reached. It has been speculated across several media platforms that Easley’s call was the one that triggered the end of the lockout. It has also been said that many of these referees were unfairly set up for failure, thrown into a level of game for which they were not adequately prepared.

Easley got started as a referee in his early 20s at UCLA, where he discovered the fun of officiating football.

“It’s really an engaging and challenging position; you have camaraderie with the other officials and you always have to be in the moment,” he recalled.

Easley, a third-generation referee, has been officiating high school football games since 2001, and he began professionally overseeing college games in 2008. Since the start of his career, Easley attended several training camps for referees.

Then, in 2012, the NFL officiating lockout happened, and by June of that year the league put out the call that it needed replacement referees. After careful thought and consideration, Easley said he applied for something he viewed as the chance of a lifetime.

“I didn’t even expect to see the field,” he said. “I went through tryouts and an extensive background check, and was really excited when hired. But in the back of my mind, I knew it wasn’t forever.”

According to Easley, there are some notable differences between high school and college football and the NFL—starting with the rulebook.

“The rules are much more intense. I was constantly reviewing the procedures,” he said. “In high school the field is much more narrow, but in the NFL they make use of the whole field, so you have to cover more boundaries.”

Despite the pressure, Easley said he felt confident that fateful Monday night.

“People asked me if I was nervous on the field, but I felt in control and in charge of the situation,” he said.

Easley’s time in the NFL was short-lived: He officiated just 17 days before the lockout ended. The replacement referee officiated some high school football games upon returning to the Central Coast but has since stepped aside to focus on his health and family—and moving past “the call.”

He said that with everything that comes at you in life, there is an opportunity for growth.

“This ordeal has changed me,” he said. “I have dealt with a lot of vitriol and hate. This has helped me understand other people. People can disagree with my point of view but it’s my point of view.”

And that is just it—human perception is a funny and fickle thing; what one person sees can be completely different from what the person next to him perceives. With 22 cameras used in Monday Night Football, there were numerous perceptions that came with the catch between Tate and Jennings, many of which were not in Easley’s favor.

“There are a list of philosophies in officiating,” Easley said. “[One of which is] when in doubt, go with your gut instinct because it is usually right.”

And that’s just what Easley did. The NFL refused to overturn the call, and Easley has stood by his decision without fail. The validity of his call could be argued until the end of time, but Easley questions whether he should have to apologize or be embarrassed by his decision.

“Should I have to hide from doing my job? I decided to take a stand and do what’s right. I wasn’t trying to be in the spotlight,” he said.

The former official said people often want to hear how he dealt with everything that happened. That’s part of what led him to write his new book, Making the Call: Living with your Decisions. Co-written with author Brock Thoene, the novel details the events leading up to the call, the results, and how Easley has worked to move past the ordeal.

“I feel like the book has some powerful wisdom, and I wanted to share my story,” Easley said. “It’s more anecdotal—like Forrest Gump meets Jimmy Stewart in real life.”

He said everyone has to deal with the internal and external noise of the decisions he or she makes, and there is some value to gain from the noise and reflecting on those decisions.

“We all have to make decisions and they may not always be right, but we have to stand by them,” he said.

Easley pointed out that there seem to be some accountability issues with players; why does the ref get blamed for the players’ mistakes? He mentioned the recent game between the New England Patriots and the North Carolina Panthers as an example. Easley’s name was thrown back into the spotlight when the official made an unfavorable call.

“Never mind Tom Brady threw the ball 10 yards short of his receiver,” Easley said. “Players make the plays and the officials have to deal with what happens.”

Even after mountains of hate being dumped in his lap, the replacement referee said he doesn’t mind when people crack jokes about his call. He said he can appreciate humor.

A church-going man, Easley said that his strong Christian faith has helped carry him through.

“I don’t want to be seen as a victim, and just because I am a person of faith doesn’t mean stuff is not going to happen to me,” he said. “I am a regular guy who went through an extreme situation, and because of my foundation I was able to stand up to this.”

With the twists, turns, and notoriety consistent with a fiction novel, Easley’s life will never be quite the same. With no sign of officiating in the future, he said he would continue to promote his book, write his blog, and to make public speaking engagements.

Overnight, Easley went from small-town guy to a guy being interviewed on the Today Show for a decision made in a football game.

As it says in Making the Call: Living with your Decisions: “Eight seconds. That’s all it took for my life to go over a cliff. Eight seconds. I never thought it would happen the way it did. Not to me. Of course, most people don’t expect something earth shaking or life altering to happen to them. I know I didn’t. ... How many people have their moment of crisis play out in front of 18 million people? And what if, in the week and month following that momentary event, 50 million people had an opinion about it—mostly not favorable? How would you respond?”

 

Contact Staff Writer Kristina Sewell at ksewell@santamariasun.com.