In the wake of recent news about a continuing shortage of high school and youth sports officials, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has signed into law a bill that makes “harassment of a school or recreation athletic contest official” a misdemeanor crime, punishable by up to 90 days in jail.
In addition, offenders would have to undergo counseling and perform community service work. And in a boon to game officials who order those culprits to leave a game, not obeying such an order has also been declared illegal and comes with its own set of penalties.
The question of whether this constitutes a suppression of freedom of speech will naturally follow. For now, though, politicos have a ready answer.
“This bill isn’t to prevent a parent to express concerns about a call they feel is wrong or invalid,” Rep. Cameron Henry who presented the bill, noted in an article in Athletic Business. “We understand a parent will always protect their child and express concern if they feel their kid has been robbed of a play or an opportunity to win the game. The problem begins when the concern turns into a threat of violence and could jeopardize the safety of the officials or others.”
“The problem we’re having is a lot of parents and guardians are starting to scream and threaten referees at 10-year-old tee-ball games,” State Rep. Cameron Henry, a Republican from Metairie, told New Orleans’ NBC-TV affiliate WDSU. “It’s embarrassing for the kid and parents and isn’t what sports are about.”
According to the Louisiana High School Athletics Association website, more than 75 percent of officials quit because of “adult behavior.” The LHSAA was one of the strongest advocates for passing the law, which goes into effect on August 1, 2019 (just in time for the next school year).
In a similar move, Ohio lawmakers are pushing to raise the penalty for assaulting an on-the-job umpire or referee from a misdemeanor to a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine.
USA TODAY reports a recent survey by the National Association of Sports Officials revealed that more than 75 percent of all high school officials say the behavior of adults in the stands is the primary reason they hang up their whistles. The survey also noted that nearly 87 percent of officials have experienced verbal abuse, and many claim they’ve been treated unfairly by both coaches and spectators.
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association even went so far as to issue a memo in January urging parents to “cool it” in an effort to curb verbal abuse, which the association claims is perpetuating a statewide officials shortage.