OPINION: Referee Protections Are A Necessary Change



One of my favorite signs I have ever seen at any sporting event is located at a little league field in Glendale, Wis.

The sign drew national attention after a parent posted a photo of it to Reddit back in 2017, and it reads:

Please Remember

1. These are KIDS

2. This is a GAME

3. Coaches are VOLUNTEERS

4. Umpires are HUMAN

5. Your child is NOT being scouted by the Brewers today.

Thank you, Glendale Little League

Is it sad that people need to be reminded of these five plainly evident truths of youth sports? Absolutely, but anyone who has spent even a handful of games in the stands has run into at least one parent or fellow spectator who could use the reminder. As we were reminded a couple of weeks ago, even fans of professional teams such as the jerk who dumped popcorn on Russell Westbrook, or another fan sitting courtside who appeared to spit at Trae Young proved incapable of restraining themselves from egregious displays of disrespect.

For those who still cannot get the message at least at Wisconsin prep sports events, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) passed an amendment to their spectator ejection policy last week. The amendment, which passed 312-70 among member schools last Wednesday, creates a minimum penalty of at least one additional game/meet suspension for a spectator ejected for “flagrant harassment or unsportsmanlike behavior.”

This also comes as the Wisconsin State Legislature is working on Senate Bill 175, which would raise harassment of sports officials to the level of a Class A misdemeanor. The proposed legislation as currently written would allow the court to “impose up to 40 hours of community service work and may require that the actor participate in counseling, including anger management or abusive intervention.”

Relax, your involuntary gasp or “Oh, c’mon” after a call that does not go as you thought it should have is not going to have you picking up trash along the highway in an orange jumpsuit for a week. However, the policy change for the WIAA and considered legislation change at the state level underscore the growing need for protections for officials.

According to a 2017 survey by the National Association of Sports Officials, 45 percent of female officials and 48 percent of male officials nationwide responded affirmatively to the statement that they have felt unsafe or feared for their safety due to behavior of an administrator, player, coach or spectator. While 14 percent actually reported being physically assaulted by a fan, player or coach, that number and the nearly 45 percent who reported that negative comments from fans at least sometimes bothered them are exceedingly higher than should be acceptable.

And if the solution for some is “getting rid of those refs who can’t take the heat,” do not be surprised if the quantity and quality of officiating suffers as a result.

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