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Social Media Parent-Shaming: The New Weapon to Stop Bad Behavior

8 Aug, 2018

By: Michael Popke

Brian Barlow is fed up. After seeing so many viral videos of parents acting violently at youth soccer games, the youth soccer referee from Oklahoma decided to post them on a Facebook page he created called Offside. The result? Barlow’s gone viral himself for his brand of public shaming and increasing awareness of parents behaving badly.

“I do it to hold people accountable — to identify and call out the small percentage of parents who nonetheless create a toxic environment at youth sports,” Barlow, 44, told The New York Times. “It’s a very visual deterrent, and not just to the person caught on video but to others who ask themselves: Do I look like that jerk?”

The videos (for which Barlow pays $100 for each clip) are part of the “STOP” initiative — an online sales campaign that takes its acronym from “Stop Tormenting Officials Permanently.” Calling the effort a “solution to bad parent behavior,” Barlow claims STOP will be able to curb ugly parent behavior at youth sporting events with its line of hand-held, wearable and facility signage (“Help us #STOP referee abuse” and “Warning: Screaming at Officials Not Allowed!”).

We have reinforced this by creating a code of conduct that parents and coaches will read and consent to, acknowledging that they are being held accountable with the #stop initiative,” according to the STOP website.  

“All these players are watching, and they’re sponges, so they’re not learning how to play soccer, they’re learning how to fight when the whistle doesn’t go their way,” Barlow told WTOP.com, the website for a radio station that serves the Washington, D.C., area.

The signs, so simple yet so powerful, may make youth sports administrators ask themselves why they never thought of this before — especially if the approach is working. After all, referee abuse is not a new problem.

As The New York Times reports:

The harassment has grown so rampant that more than 70 percent of new referees in all sports quit the job within three years, according to the National Association of Sports Officials. The chief cause for the attrition, based on a survey conducted by the association, was pervasive abuse from parents and coaches.

The result has been drastic referee shortages across the country with scores of youth and high school games canceled and leagues aborted. Barry Mano, the president of the officials’ association, said it received one or two calls weekly inquiring about the organization’s assault insurance or for the legal advice that goes with it.

[I]n eastern Oklahoma, Barlow chose to fight back. Players, parents, coaches and administrators in the area say his online postings — he has put up only a small fraction of the hundreds of videos from around the country he has received — have altered sideline behavior.

That’s arguably more than what laws in 23 states have done when it comes to keeping sports officials safe from assault.

“It’s one thing to pass legislation," Barlow (who also is a marketing professional and consultant) told Forbes.com. "But in the heat of the moment, you’re not thinking about laws, or whether you’re going to get arrested. There has to be something visually dominating at clubs, organizations and tournaments that tell you  this is how you behave, and you’re going to [be] held accountable, and if you don’t follow it we are going to escort you off the premises. Everyone talks about the issue, and they all say the standard same stuff – but no one REALLY has a no-tolerance policy."

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