work the refs

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work the refs (third-person singular simple present works the refs, present participle working the refs, simple past and past participle worked the refs)

  1. (sports) To attempt to persuade the referee or other officials to view the players on one's team with a sympathetic bias.
    • 1996, William E. Warren & ‎L. Chapman, Basketball Coach's Survival Guide, →ISBN, page 233:
      You should also work the refs during pregame warmups, telling them how hard your players work on blocking out in practice and hope that the refs give your players a fair chance.
    • 1998, Rod Hundley & ‎Tom McEachin, Hot Rod Hundley: "You Gotta Love It, Baby", →ISBN, page 241:
      He worked the refs better than anyone I've ever seen. He was a great bench coach, too. He had a great feel for playing the right people at the right time.
    • 2004, Jack Ramsay, Dr. Jack's Leadership Lessons Learned From a Lifetime in Basketball, →ISBN:
      I don't remember much about the game, who won or lost, but what I do remember was Jack, his intensity and the fierce, passionate way he worked the refs.
    • 2015, Harlan Coben, The Stranger, →ISBN:
      All coaches work the refs because they understand human nature better than anyone.
  2. (politics, by extension) To manipulate the press to view one's candidate favorably and to report negative stories on one's opponent.
    • 2006, James E. Mueller, Towel Snapping the Press, →ISBN:
      Slater said that Bush would charm reporters in an attempt to "work the refs" much like a basketball coach will try to cajole and hassle referees in order to influence calls.
    • 2010, Julie Drew, William Lyons, & Lance Svehla, Sound-Bite Saboteurs, →ISBN:
      Today this pressure is better funded and more coordinated on the Right, making their efforts to work the refs, to script our political spectacles, more powerful.
    • 2013, Mark Tushnet, In the Balance: Law and Politics on the Roberts Court, →ISBN, page 28:
      In a sense, for conservatives the “changed his mind” story is a continuation of their efforts to work the refs, this time treating the American people as the referees in a contest over respect for the Supreme Court.
    • 2016 September 26, David Goldstein and Anita Kumar, “Trump is still Trump in first debate and Clinton doesn’t take the bait”, in Miami Herald:
      Both candidates worked the refs ahead of the game.
    • 2016 October 31, Isaac Chotiner, “Donald Trump Is on the Ballot Next Week. Why Are We Talking About Emails?”, in Slate Magazine:
      ThinkProgress’ Judd Legum suggests Comey was overcorrecting in response to a monthslong assault by the GOP on the FBI’s authority. “Republicans worked the refs at the FBI,” Legum tweeted, “and it worked.”