Feedbag #13: Feedback on Sensitive Topics

Hello and welcome to this month’s edition of the Feedbag! Last time, we covered how to handle feedback from players. Our topic for this month comes from a new addition to our editing staff, Erin Leonard:

“How do you give a judge feedback on a sensitive topic?”

The sensitive topics in question here are things that would fall under the Unsporting Conduct policy at Competitive REL — racial or sexual comments. Even though judges are generally awesome people, occasionally some of us do less than awesome things that need to be addressed.

A recent interview with L2 Eliana Rabinowitz touched on a similar topic – microaggressions against women in the Magic community, which I would definitely recommend reading. Eliana’s perspective is very valuable, and I’ll be piggybacking on it to discuss how to address judges exhibiting that kind of behavior.

When addressing this type of behavior, we have two main goals:
1) demonstrate to any other judges, players, or spectators in the area that this kind of behavior is not acceptable
2) ensure that the offending judge understands they’ve made a mistake that shouldn’t be repeated.

An important thing to realize when dealing with these kinds of situations is that the offending judge most likely didn’t intend to be offensive. It’s rare for someone to intentionally decide to make another person or group of people uncomfortable. They might not realize that what they’ve said doesn’t sit well with certain groups, or might feel like it’s okay for them to make jokes about a group because they’re a member of that group.

Keep this in mind when addressing the other judge — they’ve said something terrible, but it doesn’t make them a terrible person. Confronting someone is often awkward, especially about sensitive subjects like this, but they will usually thank you for pointing it out and appreciate your help. A firm “Hey, can you please not make jokes like that at a tournament?” should generally be enough.

Whenever you step in about something like this, engineer your response to match the offense. If the comment or behavior was directed at you, talk to the other judge one-on-one. If it was made in front of a group, address it in front of that group if possible. Part of the goal here is to reinforce to the offending judge and to any bystanders that there are certain behaviors we won’t tolerate. You don’t need to put the other judge in a pillory, but ensuring that others are able to observe you calling out that behavior can help to mitigate the damage it causes, and create a safe atmosphere for others at the event.

Follow up with the other judge in private. Here you can provide more detail about why their behavior is problematic, and make sure they understand why it is offensive. Even if they don’t end up agreeing with you, the goal here is to at least ensure they don’t have a repeat incident at a Magic tournament. We can’t control what people do in their private lives, but we can at least try to obtain some buy-in to not repeat the behavior at future tournaments.

I had a situation where I was able to put these techniques to good use. I was talking with a judge on my staff privately, and he saw one of his friends walk through the door and said, “Man, So-and-So is dressed in the most <insert ethnic slur> way ever.”

I asked my judge to please not use ethnic slurs to describe people, and got a blank stare. Over the course of the conversation it emerged that he had no idea that particular meaning was attached to that word. I encouraged him to look it up on urbandictionary (incidentally, this is the only time I have recommended someone spend time browsing around urbandictionary).

It was obvious he made the comment in ignorance and wouldn’t have said it if he realized what it actually meant. A brief but firm, “Hey, don’t do this again, here’s why, thanks” was all that was needed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

You will not be added to any email lists and we will not distribute your personal information.