Read all directions. Failing to heed a lesson we all learned in grade school cost me an awkward afternoon in a men’s locker room at Drake University. It also reminded me to appreciate the people working behind the scenes to guarantee the quality and legitimacy of things we take for granted.

A few weeks ago, I was lured by an urgent Facebook message from a friend promising $125-$150 for a half day’s work at the U.S. Track and Field Championships in Des Moines. I quickly responded that I would help. A few hours later, I reread her letter more closely.

“It is not a glamorous position…[the sample observer] is responsible for just that…witnessing the sample collection.”

“Well, crap,” I thought. “I just signed up to collect pee cups.” It didn’t sound pleasant, but I was already signed up. Plus, I had spent a good chunk of my childhood cleaning manure out of hog barns for a lot less than $30 an hour. How bad could this be? Athlete goes into stall, closes door, fills sample cup, comes out and hands me cup.

My mindset changed the day of the event, when I learned that a sample observer actually observes...everything. I was told that without the visual confirmation of a sample observer (start to finish), drug test results for an athlete are considered null and void.

That didn’t make me any more comfortable about watching people pee (which now ranks ahead of cleaning hog barns as the worst job I’ve ever had). But it was surprising to learn how much the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) – the organization that tests athletes – and the millions of Americans that watch Olympic sports depend on a group of newly-minted part-time “observers” to ensure athletes are “clean.”

But it shouldn’t surprise any of us. Think of the products and services you trust and depend upon. Usually there’s a group of men and women on the front lines performing undesirable tasks that are critical to the final outcome. There are so many that Mike Rowe has built a career just bringing attention to these “ dirty jobs.”

While I consider farming a noble profession, it has more than its share of dirty jobs that all of us depend on. Cleaning hog crates and helping cows calve in the middle of the night probably rank above “sample observer” on most people’s lists, but don’t ask them to give up their day jobs to take on these responsibilities.

That’s cool. It’s not for everyone, but every meat-eating American expects that the pork chop on his/her plate came from a pig that lived in clean, comfortable and healthy conditions. It takes a little dirty work to keep that pig “clean.”

So a little respect, please, for the crate washer and the sample observer. Maybe you don’t want to be them, but you certainly don’t want to be without them.

Written by Zach Bader
Zach is a Communications Specialist for Iowa Farm Bureau.