Curbing abuses of sports officials
By Guest Columnist Yancy Methvien
Unemployment is currently pretty low. There are lots of jobs out there.
One job segment that always seems to be hiring is the service industry, and for good reason: service industry work, especially entry-level jobs, are not all that well paying. And then there's the tendency of the people being served to be a bit rude and sometimes downright ugly to their service providers. The sports world has such jobs. Officiating, for example.
There has been a severe shortage in sports officials across the entire country, and it has only gotten worse over the last several years. But you can see why. This past month in Laurel, Mississippi, fast-pitch softball umpire Kristi Moore was assaulted by an angry parent after a game. Moore was on her way to her vehicle when the mother of a player ambushed her. Her face was very swollen from the attack, but fortunately no other injuries were inflicted. The parent ambushed Moore because she was upset that she had been removed from the playing area for using excessive profanity. She was later arrested, fined less than $500, and was released that night. Just a few days later, a male umpire in The Colony, Texas, was assaulted on the field by a coach who disagreed with a call at home plate. The umpire needed to be taken to the hospital and treated for a concussion after the coach shoved him in the head and caused him to fall.
These are just two of the most recent national stories involving physical assaults on umpires and referees. Refs and umps have been on the receiving end of heckling since the beginning of time, but what is terrible is just how common verbal abuse and assault of officials at the hands of both fans and coaches has become and just how often it occurs at the youth-sports level. Some of the behavior is absolutely deplorable.
There are many reasons why these incidents occur, and it would take a professional psychologist to unpack them all, but a few of the reasons are obvious. We are just getting together with one another again after being cooped up during a pandemic, and some of us are still not ready mentally. That’s on top of the standard stress involved in youth sports and the expenses of travel and practice, with the accompanying pressure parents and coaches feel to develop their children into winning players. Add the other stresses of their lives, and somewhere in all that they become incapable of relaxing at a ballgame.
The officials aren’t there to be the outlet for frustrations and they aren’t there to rig the game for either team. They are certainly not paid enough to take some of the abuse they do. Most officials aren’t even in it for the money. While sports officials are compensated above minimum wage, they don’t see what could be considered “a living” until they have several years of experience and are good enough and/or lucky enough to get hired to work at the college level. Most officials work youth-level through high-school level as part time work and are people that love the game and what it can do for kids. These are people we need to treat with more respect so that they will keep providing kids with the best on-field sports experience possible.
Unfortunately, until there are some major policy shifts we won’t see a big improvement. That doesn’t mean that we as fans and adults can’t have a positive impact by being better examples and policing ourselves before things get out of hand.
The truth is that even good officials occasionally make bad calls. Either they may be new to the job, or they are veteran officials who are overworked. Giving them a ton of abuse for making a mistake or bad call is not going to make them want to come back where they are treated that way. There is a shortage of officials, and there are plenty of other places for them to go work. If they leave, chances are their replacements will be even less experienced, and things will only get worse.
Next time you hear someone yell at the ump or ref “I could do a better job,” politely remind them that the sign-up sheet is available online and there is currently a shortage. Also, maybe remind them that nobody shows up at their place of work and gives them abuse every time they jam up the copying machine or spill coffee on a desk. Most of all, remind them that kids playing the game won’t really remember the team's won-loss record ten years from now. They will remember whether they had a good time playing or bad memories from it. Behavior towards officials plays into those memories.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Yancy Methvien holds the world's record for the most rounds of golf played in a single year, referees local high school football games and follows all Mississippi sports.