Although numerous professions are subject to bad publicity (lawyers, cops, accordion players) only one is accustomed to having its members' well-being teasingly (or sometimes actually) threatened each time they show up for work.After all, "Kill the umpire" is the most oft-heard response to "Play ball!" Sure, we publicists don't garner Mother Teresa-like respectability ourselves, but at least we're not abused by fans, players, and coaches, or forced to wear unflattering apparel. (I was once put in a headlock by a temperamental diva, but found the experience far too enjoyable to qualify as "abuse.") No one needs a good PR boost more than officials. Which is why I'm happy to give them one here. Perhaps you may not know there is the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO). Well, there is, and I met their communications manager, Bob Still, earlier this year on a movie set. You might think a beleaguered outfit like his would devote its PR efforts to eliciting sympathetic warm fuzzies. You know, "Don't hate us because we spoiled the point spread and your lousy $50 parlay with a controversial call" sort of thing. Such is not the case. NASO is waging a far more important battle. Sitting in the dugout during a break in shooting, Still told me about one of NASO's priorities - a grassroots health campaign, Blow the Whistle on Cancer, a cooperative effort with the V Foundation for Cancer Research to raise funds and awareness of cancer-treatment programs. The officials utilize select sporting events across the US as fundraisers - and open their own wallets as well. From high-school volleyball matches to big-time NFL games, officials are not just blowing the whistle, but trying to kick the stuffing out of cancer. The dreaded disease claimed my father's life, so I heartily support any group fighting against it. "The V Foundation was founded by basketball coach Jimmy Valvano shortly before he succumbed to the cancer," says Still. "His motto was, 'Don't give up...don't ever give up.' We're trying to feed off his courageous inspiration in our efforts. Also, we tend to take sports too seriously, and charities like Blow the Whistle On Cancer help keep things in perspective." We might recall that the next time we curse a ref for a bad call. They're also blowing the whistle on something far more vital. That's "sportsman-like conduct." Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer
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