It's time for legislation to protect sports officials


The assault was streamed live.
It was a play at home plate in a youth baseball tournament in Texas last weekend.
The umpire called the runner safe. A coach came out to argue the call, and was ejected. The coach then shoved the umpire to the ground and walked away.
Another umpire took to social media to show what happened to her last weekend. She was working a youth softball tournament when someone punched her in the eye.
Then there was the video a friend of mine, who officiates high school and youth sports, posted on Facebook from a tournament a few weeks ago in Nebraska. You see a conference on the mound between a coach and his players. After the conference, as the pitcher delivers a fastball down the middle, the catcher deliberately moves out of the way so the pitch hits the umpire. The umpire ejects both players.
Neither player shows remorse.
There was no video of what happened at Fort Madison Middle School on Saturday, when an official was assaulted by a fan during a 3-on-3 basketball tournament. But the news of what happened reached social media by Tuesday night.
There is anger among those who work as officials around the area and around the state. And it’s time that action is taken to protect those officials.
A vast majority of events go on without incident, and it’s a credit to those who play, coach, and officiate.
I covered a soccer game recently where the officials constantly worked with the players, communicating and instructing to lessen the amount of stoppages of play for fouls or other incidents. And after the match, players and coaches thanked the officials.
I’ve also seen in baseball games where catchers shake hands with the plate umpire at the start of the game, basketball games where coaches and officials have light-hearted conversations.
Everyone can get along if they make an effort.
But the incidents seen on social media, and what happened here over the weekend, are becoming more and more common. And they are starting to jeopardize sports at the youth and high school levels.
The pressure has intensified on youth sports in this nation. Tournaments are money makers for organizers, money takers for the parents who invest heavily in sports. And officials are caught in the middle. There are a lot of reasons why the number of officials is continuing to decline in Iowa and around the nation. But verbal abuse, and the threat of physical abuse, is making it harder and harder for schools and tournaments to find officials, and it’s making it harder to recruit and train new officials.
That’s why it is time for state legislatures to pass laws protecting officials. The threat of an assault charge hasn’t deterred some people from attacking an official, so maybe there needs to be a law that has some teeth to it.
It’s also up to the organizations that govern our youth and high school sports to come up with tougher penalties. The teams whose coaches were involved in the two incidents that were caught on video have been suspended from any further competition, and those should be the penalties given out at the high school level as well.
And if the associations don’t want to act, then maybe it’s time officials draw a line. If there is an incident, tell the associations that no official around the state will be working a game the next night.
We must remember that it is only a game. And if you can’t think that way, maybe it’s time to stay home.
The games, most likely, will be streamed live.
John Bohnenkamp is a national award-winning sports reporter and contributor to Pen City Current

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