By Ken Reed
Sports fans have long heaped verbal abuse on referees and umpires. While that’s certainly not great from a sportsmanship perspective, it comes with the territory.
The problem today is that too often verbal abuse is turning into physical abuse.
“The negative atmosphere in the public sector is getting much worse,” according to Mark Dreibelbis, an assistant commissioner of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. “Last season we saw the safety of officials in jeopardy, too.”
Last football season, an assistant high school football coach ordered two of his players to deliberately collide with an official. The incident generated more than 12 million views on the internet. More parents, coaches and fans are getting physical with officials too. There is a growing number of reports of officials getting ambushed in parking lots after games.
“Physical violence is a growing problem,” says Barry Mano, the president of the National Association of Sports Officials.
“Essentially every week our office receives a report about a game official being physically assaulted at a game by a coach, player or spectator.”
The increase in physical violence parallels the growth of our country’s win-at-all-costs (WAAC) mindset.
Within the last two years, recreation league soccer officials in Utah and Michigan have died after being punched by players. The absurdity of that fact is hard to fathom.
High school and youth sports officials usually get a small stipend for their services but when travel and equipment expenses are factored in, their take home pay is usually well below minimum wage.
“Most of our officials are doing it because they want to give back to the community. It’s almost a community service type of attitude that they have,” Poudre School District (CO) athletic director Russ McKinstry says.
“It’s just really important for all of us as coaches, as fans, that we are respecting officials. They are providing a service to us that’s almost voluntary in nature when you look at how much they’re paid.”
Either respect for officials begins to go up or the number of games our high school and youth sports athletes get to play will go down. Virtually, every state in the country has seen a decline in the number of sports officials — for all sports — over the last decade. Eliminating games will be the only solution if that trend isn’t reversed.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.