February 27, 2019- Racine, WI - WIAA Files To Appeal Judge's Ruling To Allow Waterford's Hayden Halter To Wrestle After Suspension, reported by Jonathan Sadowski, Racine Journal Times.
February 8, 2019 - Racine, WI - Strange But True: Wisconsin Judge Overturns A Sports Official's Judgment Call. See Judge Overrules WIAA, Halter Gets To Wrestle, reported by Adam Rogan, Racine Journal-Times. Parents and schools have gone to court before to dispute calls that decide games or result in an ejection, but they almost never win. The prevailing judicial logic was best expressed by Oklahoma Judge in a 2014 case. Jones said,"This slippery slope of solving athletic contests in court instead of on campus will inevitably usher in a new era of robed referees and meritless litigation due to disagreement with or disdain for decisions of gaming officials.” That about said it all .. but it didn't say it all in Wisconsin where a judge literally became the referee and reversed an official's call.
The sad thing about the Wisconsin case is that the official didn't have to overturn the official's judgment call. It wasn't legally necessary to do so. This case involves a wrestler who was ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct. The wrestler was ejected for flexing and allegedly swearing to celebrate a win. The ejection resulted in a suspension. The school then claimed that it entered the wrestler in a JV tournament to have him serve the suspension. This didn't pass muster with the WIAA, which required the varsity wrestler and defending State champion wrestler to serve the suspension in his next varsity match, which was round one of the State tournament; effectively resulting in the wrestler being DQd from the tournament.
The judge ruled that the wrestling officials made a bad call ... but that meant that the judge became a wrestling referee. This is poor work by the judge, and it wasn't necessary. There are two grounds of attack that the judge passed on. First, the judge could have ruled that WIAA rules aren't clear on whether the suspension could be served at the JV level. Second, the judge could have ruled that it is not clear whether WIAA rules clearly define this action as unsportsmanlike (which is a bit of a shaky argument, but far less damaging than having judges become referees).
This poor ruling did result in an NASO editorial on February 11th.. NASO properly notes that judges becoming referees places us all on a slippery slope. The NASO is correct. The judge issued a results based decision, and could have gotten that result in a better manner. You can see the WIAA and NASO's position in the following article. Referees, WIAA Fear Wrestling Court Ruling Will Have Problematic Statewide Implications, reported by Adam Rogan, Racine Journal Times, Feb. 12, 2019. Now, this case isn't necessarily over. The current ruling is a temporary injunction. The standard for the judge is to determine whether to suspend the WIAA's decision by balancing the chance of irreparable harm to the wrestler against the WIAA's likelihood for success on the merits of the case. Generally, if an agency follows its rules, it will win on appeal, which generally means that the wrestler would have had a very slim chance for success. If the WIAA appeals, they probably win, but this creates the issue of what to do about their wrestling tournament. Do they postpone it? Do they let the wrestler compete, and then forfeit him out later? There are no good options here. Bad law creates real world problems.
April 12, 2017 - NFHS highlights sports officials identity theft problem. See Identity Theft - A Potential Problem For Sports Officials, reported by Ken Devoe, NFHS.org.
April 11, 2017 - Greensburg, PA - Jail Time For Woman Who Threatened Youth Football Officials, Associated Press Report on Fox News.
January 11, 2017 - Odessa, TX - Soccer Referee Who Tried To Break Up Fight Ended Up Being Charged With Interfering With a Police Officer. The police officer appeared to be one of the parents involved in a large melee between rival parents at a youth soccer game. Even worse, the police officer filed charges against the ref. Well, referee David Hisaw had a lengthy ordeal, but was ultimately acquitted after a trial on a misdemeanor charge of interfering with the duties of an off-duty police officer. The ref still says the police officer was part of the fight, and the police department still backs the officer. See Referee Found Not Guilty For Altercation With Odessa Police Sergeant, reported by DeAnn Lopez, CBS-TV 7, Odessa.
November 23, 2016 - Chicago, IL - Chicago's Fenwick High School Is The Latest School To Find Out That Courts Do Not Exist To Act As Review Boards for Officials' Missed Calls. See Judge Rejects Bid By Fenwick To Overturn Disputed Playoff Football Loss, reported by Steve Schmadeke, Chicago Tribune. Not to be outdone, the Chicago Sun Times chimed in with an editorial. See Since When Did Judges Become Football Referees?, Sun Times Editorial Board, November 22, 2016; also see Judge Rules Against Fenwick High School Over Football Referee Mistake, WGN-TV, Associated Press, Nancy Loo and Mike Lowe, November 23, 2016. This is not the first time we've seen courts asked to reverse errors on the field - and courts generally refuse to become "super-referees." We just saw this two years ago in Oklahoma. See Judge Rules In Oklahoma High School Football Case, reported by Shelby (Tennessee) Metro Sports Blog, December 12, 2014. Judge Bernard Jones, who heard the Oklahoma case, put it best: "This slippery slope of solving athletic contests in court instead of on campus will inevitably usher in a new era of robed referees and meritless litigation due to disagreement with or disdain for decisions of gaming officials.” That about says it all.
September 30, 2016 - Illinois - Officials Background Checks - Sex offender works Illinois high school game; Background checks to come! See Rep. Beiser Introduces Bill Requiring Criminal Background Checks For High School Sports Officials Riverbender.com (Alton, IL), September 30, 2016; Lawmakers 'Not Willing To Wait' For IHSA To Do Background Checks On Officials, reported by Don O'Brien, Belleville News-Democrat, September 30, 2016.
January, 2016 – Tennessee - Officials Background Checks – Bill Would Require Sports Officials Background Checks by Sam Brown and Joel Ebert, January 28, 2016, The Tennessean. This is a case of a State legislature lagging behind the State high school governing body for high school sports. The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) voted to require all officials to undergo a background check in November. Not to be outdone, the State legislature took action also. The Tennessee action is highly reminiscent of the Massachusetts action from 2015 where massive publicity of a criminal officiating forced everybody’s hand. In Massachusetts, a newspaper investigated officials in general, finding a number of criminals officiating. In Tennessee, the criminal simply got arrogant and got outed. Football official Joseph Kyle Gill alleged that a player intentionally ran him over in a football game. The resultant publicity led people who recognized Gill to out him for a statutory rape conviction from 2007, forcing the TSSAA and the legislature to require background checks.
July 30, 2015 - Pennsylvania - NLRB Rules High School Lacrosse Officials to Be Employees of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, Not Independent Contractors. See more on this somewhat surprising decision by reading PIAA Appealing Ruling on Lacrosse Officials, Referee Magazine, November 2015, page 10; and Ruling: Lacrosse Officials Can Unionize; PIAA Files Appeal, reported by John Walk, Lancasteronline.com, August 17, 2015.
San Francisco, CA - March 25, 2015 - What do the app-based service industry and sports officials have in common? They both are frequently embroiled in independent contractor disputes. The abb-based service workers are generating some public sympathy as people have trouble accepting that workers for very wealthy companies aren't employees. But, as officials know, it's hard to predict the result where you have workers who can accept or decline an assignment tied up in high stakes independent contractor litigation. Does the tech world really impact officials? Well, if the app service workers generate a lot of sympathy, those states without sports officials independent contractor legislation could find themselves being scrutinized by unemployment agencies looking to make amateur sports officials employees, and those unemployment agencies may not be as sympathetic to claims that the sports officials are independent contractors. To read about some of the tech industries' problems see, Homejoy, Postmate Workers Sue To Be Reclassified As Employees (published as More Workers Suing App-Based Services) by Carolyn Said, San Francisco Chronicle, March 25, 2015, Section C, page one.
Boston, MA - February 26, 2015 - Click here for the Boston Globe's report: MIAA To Implement Criminal Checks For Referees reported by Bob Hohler, February 26, 2015. And if you're wondering what led the MIAA to begin conducting background checks on sports officials ... well, it was the Boston Globe. The Globe ran stories on officials with criminal convictions working games at high schools. For example, see MIAA Doesn't Conduct Criminal Background Checks on Referees reported by Bob Hohler, December 21, 2014. If you're wondering how many States conduct background checks on high school sports officials, the Globe reports that 28 States require background checks.
Odessa, TX - October 18, 2014 - Officer Under Investigation After He Has Soccer Referees Arrested. While the results of the investigation aren't in, you have to feel a little sorry for two soccer referees who had parents rush the field in a post-game altercation, asked one of the parents to move, and then got arrested because the parent they asked to move was an off-duty police officer watching his son play. The officer is being investigated because there's a pretty good chance that he was acting as a parent, not an officer. See OPD Officer Under Investigation by Jon Vanderlaan, Odessa American, November 3, 2014. This is similar to the famous Louisiana Lockup incident where another police officer whose son was playing in a game arrested two referees.
September 24, 2014 - New York State - Officials' discretion to call the game as they see it results in independent contractor ruling. See U.S. Open Umpires and Linesmen Are Independent Contractors, Court Rules, reported by Todd Lebowitz, Baker Hostetler Employment Class Action Blog, September 24, 2014. Lebowitz is reporting on the District Court's ruling. The District court ruling was later affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for The Second Circuit in Meyer v. USTA, (2d Circuit, 2015)(Summary Order).
Jackson, MS - May 4, 2014 - The Joshua Adams case continues to move forward. Adams is a Hinds County, MS deputy sheriff who officiated a youth basketball game. Following the game, Justin Griffin, the coach of one of the youth teams, had an altercation with Adams. Griffin allegedly followed Adams out of the gym. There are also allegations that Griffin threw three punches at Adams, and that Adams allegedly replied by throwing one punch in return. The only thing clear at this time is that Griffin died after being hit by the one punch and that Adams stands charged with manslaughter. For reports, see Details Emerge In Minutes Leading To Fatal Referee/Coach Fight by Therese Apel, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, May 12, 2014; and Hinds County Deputy Indicted In Death of Youth Basketball Coach, Associated Press Article on gulflive.com, July 7, 2014.
Lakewood, CO – February 28, 2014 – Conviction in the groping ref case! Basketball referee Stephen Amador was convicted of sexually assaulting five players in December, 2012 and January, 2013. Amador grabbed their breasts and buttocks during games. See Former Girls Basketball Referee Stephen Amador Gets Jail For Groping Players During Lakewood Games, reported by Alan Gathright, The Denver Channel, February 28, 2014. You may wonder how Amador managed to grope players in full view of their parents, and classmates. Well, he’d hand a girl the ball and his hand would graze her breasts. Just enough so the girl would dismiss it as unintentional, and the fans wouldn't notice. However, when you have grazing contacts over and over again with multiple people, somebody eventually puts two and two together. See Girl Basketball Players In Lakewood Told Police Creepy Referee Kept Groping Them In Games, reported by Alan Gathright and Molly Hendrickson, ABC News Denver, CO, April 16, 2013.
Covington, LA - October 11, 2013 - This is the famous Louisiana Lockup Case where a police officer whose son was playing in a high school game refused the referees' request to clear the sideline of fans who had encroached upon the playing area. When the referees objected, the officer arrested them. At first, the media played this as a case of out of control officials who tried to order a police officer around, but once the facts were in it became clear that the officer was in the wrong. See High School Football Referees Arrested During Game by Tim Polzer, SportsIllustrated.com, October 14, 2013; and Charges Dropped Against Refs Arrested At SPS Football Game by Stephen Hammond, St. Paul School's The Paper Wolf.com, November 7, 2013 (note: St. Paul's School was the visiting school in the game where the officials were arrested; it was their opponent's fans who were encroaching upon the field).
Indianapolis, IN - April 2, 2012 - Indiana Department of Labor Rules That Children Under 14 Can't Officiate: Youth Soccer Groups Cry Foul. A lot of youth soccer groups allow young children to officiate games played by even younger children. It's a common soccer practice likely caused by an overwhelming number of youth soccer teams, a shortage of officials, and youth soccer leagues' desire to save money by hiring children for less than it probably costs to hire adults. The practice of hiring these youth officials was never worthy of much comment until the Indiana Department of Labor got some calls from parents who have been referred to in the news as "curious." The DOL looked up the relevant statute and made the only ruling it could make. Indiana law clearly does not allow children under 14 to work " except as a farm laborer, domestic service worker, caddie for persons playing the game of golf, or newspaper carrier." Ind. Code Section 20-33-3-31. The law must be enforce, but I suspect that the "curious" parents were simply a higher, more sophisticated level of the type of parents who commonly badger officials. In this case, they decided to run off the youth officials that they didn't like by challenging their bona fides to work at all. It is rather unlikely that the "curious" parents operated out of concern for the youth soccer referees' well-being as the only job danger the youth soccer referees face are the parents and coaches who may attack them. This is a law that will likely be amended in the near future. You can read about this interesting child labor problem by seeing Kids Under 14 Can No Longer Referee Soccer by Jason Gabrick, Indiana Public Media, April 2, 2012.
MA - December 3, 2011 - Controversy Ensues As Go-Ahead Touchdown Called Back Due To Celebration: High School Administrators Refuse To Overturn Controversial Call. Massachusett's Cathedral High School had their go-ahead touchdown called back when their quarterback raised his arm to celebrate. This touched off a national controversy, and an appeal to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA). The MIAA couldn't - and didn't - reverse the call. How could they? It's an officials' judgment call that occurred with six minutes left in the game. We saw a similar problem in November where some New Mexico football officials allegedly missed a call, and a court was asked to intervene. The court ruled that it is not the role of courts to overturn officials' judgment calls. In Massachusetts, it is not the role of administrators to do so either. To quote the New Mexico court, “To agree with the plaintiffs that the courts can serve in that role would set a very bad precedent for high school teams, YAFL teams, little league, AYSO ... Any kind of scholastic sporting team would say if you disagree with the call of a ref or umpire or some other official, that you don’t need to worry about it; you don’t need to live with the decision; that it is up to a court, ultimately, to decide that call, and that’s not the role of the Court.” The MIAA got it right. The call must stand. Cathedral must lose. See Controversial High School Football Call To Stand, WCVB TV (Boston), December 8, 2011. To get a sense of the scope of coverage, see how the story was covered as far away as Ohio where the Cleveland News-Herald ran a column by Bob Frantz: NFL Egomaniacs Are To Blame For High School Official's Big Blunder by Bob Frantz, Cleveland News-Herald, December 7, 2011. For pure local anger, see the Boston Mayor's comments in Mayor Slams MIAA As Frustrated Athletes Who Ruined Super Bowl by Marie Szaniszlo, Boston Herald, December 7, 2011.
Atrisco, NM - November 9, 2011 - Court Upholds Game Result Even Though Officials Missed Call. Why, you might ask? Because, the game is played on the field, and parties that don't like the results of the game don't get to run to court to reverse officials' calls or challenge the results of games where they think officials missed a call - or in this case, where the officials did miss a call. This was put more eloquently by New Mexico State Judge Shannon Baker, who stated, “To agree with the plaintiffs that the courts can serve in that role would set a very bad precedent for high school teams, YAFL teams, little league, AYSO ... Any kind of scholastic sporting team would say if you disagree with the call of a ref or umpire or some other official, that you don’t need to worry about it; you don’t need to live with the decision; that it is up to a court, ultimately, to decide that call, and that’s not the role of the Court.” Well said. At the end of the day, this was a case brought by parents who didn't like a result. The parents were correct that the officials missed a call, but that's not really the point. One of the things that we all must learn in sports is to live with results, and to live with human error. We can try to reduce errors with replay and other devices, and we should. In sports, we all must strive to do our best, and replay helps. But, ultimately, we must acknowledge that errors are an inherent part of every sports event, and our obligation to learn to confront adversity with grace outweighs the parental impulse to never let go to the extent of attempting to have courts become the arbiter of games. See Atrisco Heritage Parents Seek Injunction by James Yodice, Albuquerque Journal, November 9, 2011; Atrisco's Request Denied by Judge by James Yodice, Albuquerque Journal, November 11, 2011.
Wisconsin - August, 2011 - Officials: What Happens When You Eject The Coach, and There’s Nobody Else To Run The Team? See No Coach, Now What? Ejection of Team’s Staff Presents Rules, Liability Challenges by Matt Moore, naso.org, August, 2011.
Charleston, WV – February 10, 2011 - Attack A West Virginia Official and You Might Go Straight To Jail! West Virginia’s Senate just passed a Bill criminalizing attacks on sports officials. West Virginia’s SB 385 now moves to the West Virginia House of Delegates. If the Bill passes the West Virginia House, West Virginia will become the 20th state to pass legislation criminalizing batteries upon sports officials.
Sports officials assault legislation (or, to be more accurate “battery legislation” since the legal phrase for an attack is “battery” in most states) reflects the ugly reality that sports officials are frequently attacked by parents, coaches, and participants who don’t like their calls. The legislation comes in the wake of some extremely ugly national incidents.
The worst recent incident occurred when a Florida high school basketball player body slammed an official to the ground to protest a foul call. This ugly incident was captured on film, and displayed rather prominently on youtube and in a number of other places. The news coverage implies that attacks upon officials are an uncommon, and therefore newsworthy, event. While the Florida attack was uncommon in its severity, the truth is that there’s an ugly attack on a sports official almost every day somewhere in this country. West Virginia Senators put it best, noting that sports officials are more likely to be attacked than most people, and there’s often little recourse for them when they’re attacked. Well, there will be some recourse in the future – assuming the West Virginia House passes the Bill.
There are surprisingly few studies on attacks on sports officials. Indeed, I only know of two such studies.
In my 2001 survey of San Francisco basketball officials, 39.6% of the respondents stated that they had been attacked at some point in their career. A much larger 1998 survey of 756 Ohio officials found that 13.6% of respondents had been attacked. Assaults on Basketball Referees: A Statewide Survey, by David Rainey and Peter Duggan, Journal of Sport Behavior, March 1998, p 113.
Differences in questions and methodology probably account for some of the differences between my study and the Rainey/Duggan study. Also, it should be noted that the San Franciscans likely worked a disproportionate number of adult Rec-League games. Only 10.4% of officials in my study were attacked at high school games (and yes it should be noted that I am a high school commissioner in San Francisco, but the study was conducted in 2001 prior to my tenure as commissioner and I didn’t ask whether officials were attacked in games featuring the schools that I would eventually govern).
Differences in methodology aside, the numbers are high enough to justify assault legislation. Ask yourself whether you would want to work in a job where 13.6% of the job-holders had been physically attacked. You probably wouldn’t want that job. Of course, we do know that mail carriers are the exception that proves the rule as we can assume that a disproportionately high number of mail carriers have been attacked by dogs. However, mail carriers aside, how many people would be willing to accept such a high frequency of attacks in their profession or avocation?
The sad dilemma of it all is that our sports world creates an environment that drives away prospective officials. This leads to officiating shortages, which drive down the pool of quality officials. This limited pool has led numerous youth leagues to hire teenagers to officiate. These teenagers appear non-threatening, leading more people to attack them, driving away the next generation of officials. This vicious circle continues, harming the games that we hold dear, with no end in sight. Hopefully, the legislation helps reduce the attacks. See Senators Pass Bill To Protect Coaches, Referees by Matthew Earle, The State Journal (Charleston, WV), February 10, 2011.
Memphis University Mascot Caretaker Says, Safety First For Everyone Else But Me! Football Official Removes Obstruction From Field - And Gets Criticized For It. Two years ago, a football player suffered a very severe injury during a Houston vs. Marshall college football game. The player ran into a club car located behind an end-zone. The player sued the officials - and he was right to do so. Last Saturday (Oct. 16, 2010), Wayne Winkler, one of the referees who worked that Houston vs. Marshall game, was assigned to a University of Memphis game. Winkler noticed that Memphis set up a tiger cage for its mascot in the back of one of the end zones. So, being responsible for safety (and not wanting to be sued again), Winkler did the right thing. He told Memphis to move the mascot cage. Memphis's mascot caretaker complained, stalled, delayed, and had to be threatened with a fifteen yard penalty against Memphis before he complied. The mascot caretaker then criticized Winkler in the campus newspaper following the game - proving once again that for some people the motto is "safety first for everyone else but me." For the the campus newspaper article, see C-USA Referee Forces TOM III Off Field, Breaks Longstanding Tradition by John Martin, The Daily Helmsman, October 21, 2010.
Officials Association Leaders: What do you do when the fans abuse the officials? See When A Fan's Comments Go Too Far by Alan Goldberger and Donald C. Collins, It's Official,Monthly Newsletter Of The National Association Of Sports Officials, December 2009, page N5 (inside this month's Referee Magazine).
June 6, 2009 - Payment Delays Create E-Problems For Eastern Colleges, Officials. The speed of the high tech world can make even the most sophisticated of businesses forget some of the the deliberate prerequisites to doing business properly. A number of colleges simplified their lives by using PaymentsFirst, an electronic officials' payment system. The schools didn't have to cut checks to every official, greatly simplifying their lives and providing the type of efficiency that the e-world often brags about. One small problem, though. Pennsylvania law requires groups that serve as a payment "pass through" to receive a license from the Pennsylvania Department of Banking. PaymentsFirst failed to do so, and their business was frozen until they complied. The resulting delays are a major inconvenience to leagues, schools and, of course, the officials. A valuable e-lesson will be learned by all. See Officially, It's Become A Giant Mess by John Powers, Boston Globe, June 6, 2009.
New Haven, CT - May 15, 2009 - Officials are constantly reminded to check facilities for safety problems prior to every contest. Recently, an injured pole vaulter won $6.4 million because track meet officials were negligent in inspecting for safety. See Paralyzed Pole Vaulter Wins Lawsuit by Randall Beach, New Haven Register, May 15, 2009. Note: If legal liability does not motivate an official to conduct a facilities inspection, perhaps the human factor will. The pole vaulter who won $6.4 million may have some money, but he paid a severe price as he is paralyzed for life.
Pittsburgh, PA - March 11, 2009. In September of 2008, I predicted that the PIAA, which governs Pennsylvania high school sports, would require their officials to fingerprint in reaction to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article that found that a lot of Pennsylvania sports officials had criminal backgrounds. I was right. See PIAA to Require Background Checks by George Guido, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 11, 2009. For the 2008 article that led to my prediction, see
Many With Criminal Pasts Found On PIAA's Roster Of Sports Referees by Bill Moushey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 14, 2008.
Sharon City, PA - February 20, 2009 - Sharon City School District Loses Case, Challenging Player Ejection. You've seen it before. A player gets ejected in a place that suspends ejected players. The school or the family seek an injunction. Sometimes they get it and sometimes they don't. However, without fail these players ultimately lose the case if it moves past the injunction phase because courts are not in the business of reviewing officials' calls. In this case, the School District sought an injunction and lost. Case Closed. See Sharon Basketball Player Loses Case To Play, Sharon Herald, Feb. 20, 2009 (reprinted in mgtv.net).
New York, NY - January 2009 - New York requires officials to fingerprint. See Fingerprints Required of PSAL Officials, Referee Magazine, January 2009.
Seattle, WA - November 2008 - Assignors and associations can pay a high price for discriminatory practices: bad publicity and damages can result. The Great Northwest Athletic Conference received bad publicity where it was accused of discrimination against African Americans in its assigning practices. See Refs Looking For A Foul Call by Damon Agnos, Seattle Weekly, November 18, 2008. This story was also covered in It's Not Black & White by Dave Simon, Referee Magazine, June 2009, page 36. The GNAC case is complicated by factors such as who goes to what camps, and who is mentored by whom. Discrimination can be more blatant, of course. A black female NASCAR inspector was called, "Nappy Headed Mo" and subject to sexual advances. She sued for $250 million and ultimately reached a confidential settlement. See Grant Did Well In Settlement by Jay Hart, Yahoosports.com, December 19, 2008 (don't ask how yahoo has information on a confidential settlement); and Mauricia Grant, NASCAR, Chicago Tribune Wires, June 10, 2008. (posted by Collins - Aug. 4, 2009)
New York, N.Y. - Sept. 2008 - New York's PSAL Requires All Officials To Fingerprint. See the PSAL website for details.
September 2008 - This excellent article from Athletic Business magazine sums up the independent contractor problem very well. See Law & Risk: Contract Law by Michael Popke, Athletic Business Magazine, September 2008.
Cleveland, OH - July 2008 - For the ultimate legal presentation, click here to hear Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito speak on sports officiating.
Topeka, KS - Female Ref Banned From Boys' Game! (Story and Video) ABC News by Chris Cuomo, Raquel Hecker, and Olivia Sterns, Feb 18, 2008 (And We Thought It Was The 21st Century)! See Also, Group Looking Into Removal of Female Referee By Religious School by Andale Gross, The Pantagraph, Feb. 13, 2008.
Jan. 2008 - How should officials handle students wearing religious uniforms? What about disabled students?
Juashaunna Kelly, a Washington, D.C. Muslim track student, was DQd from a race because her attire didn't meet track uniform rules. Kelly wore special attire for religious reasons. Was the DQ discriminatory? Out of town officials DQd Kelly, but did local officials blow it by letting Kelly run for three years without briefing her on the rules?
All these issues and more are discussed in Disabilities, Religion, Officials and You by Don Collins, NASO On Board, January 2008, page 4 (National Association of Sports Officials). For information on the Kelly incident see: When The Rules Run Up Against Faith: Prep Athlete Wearing Muslim Clothing Disqualified From Meet by Alan Goldenbach, Washington Post, January 16, 2008 page A01; Muslim Athlete Disqualified Over Uniform, Associated Press, January 17, 2008; and Track Star Banned Over Muslim Clothing, MSNBC, January 16, 2008. The general public reacted poorly to this issue: See Hate Mail Follows Controversy Over Muslim Track Star, WUSA 9 Washington, D.C., January 16, 2008. For a rules explanation: Click here for the National Federation of High School's Explanation of The Rules and see Officials: Religion Not Issue In Runners Exclusion by Chay Rao and Stephanie Siegel, Montgomery County Gazette Net, January 30, 2008. Note: Uniform rules are inherently problematic. Officials are supposed to enforce them, but there is something unseemly about wiping out a result because of a technicality. Most of the time, there's no controversy and the athlete receives a lesson in rules compliance, but every once in a while things get really ugly. In 2010, a coach took the heat where he waited until the end of a meet to point out that a pole vaulter violated a uniform rule. Is this good rules enforcement or petty gamesmanship? See South Pasadena Pole Vaulter Center of National Attention After Bracelet Controversy by Miguel A. Melendez, Pasadena Star, May 12, 2010; andWhere's The Sportsmanship? Girl Disqualified For Wearing Bracelet by Dave Wielenga, SI.Com, May 13, 2010.
This issue continues to raise its ugly head. It seems like every year we see a uniform snafu involving an athlete who is penalized for wearing an illegal uniform, claims ignorance of the uniform rules, and then points out that a whole lot of officials allowed him to get away with wearing the illegal uniform. At best, this makes officials look bad. At worst, officials are charged with religious bias when the uniform rule impacts a religious minority. To add insult to injury, the rules themselves look like petty little bureaucratic obstacles when it invariably is revealed that a religious violator could have asked for and easily received a written, religious exemption from uniform requirements.
The officials who enforce the rules aren’t to blame. However, they end up bearing the heat that’s built up from all those officials before them who let things pass. Worse, the later in the year you get, the more important the games are. If uniform violations are enforced early in the season, they’ll be corrected before the spotlight shines brightly on that one official who properly handles the rules late in the year.
A 2011 incident illustrates the harm done by inconsistent uniform rules enforcement. See Headscarf Forces Maryland Girl Basketball Player To Miss First Half, CBS News – Baltimore, MD, January 19, 2011.
Pittsburgh, PA. - April 16, 2007 - Are Officials Fair Game? Numerous states have passed legislation criminalizing batteries against sports officials. Indeed, I even had the pleasure of working with California Umpire Bob Summers and Oakland attorney Lou Landini on one such Bill (Lou wrote the text, I supported Bob, and Bob did the lobbying). Do these bills help? See: Pa. Law Protecting Sports Officials Rarely Used by Rich Cholodofsky, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 16, 2007. Click Here for the National Association of Sports Officials' Special Report: Officials Under Assault.
How To Handle Coaches, Team Managers and School Officials In Wheelchairs
Clinton, Tennessee August 17, 2006 - This recurring issue was most recently in the news in Tennessee. Kyle Thornton, a wheelchair bound high school football team manager, worked with high school administrators and the Tennessee Disability Law and Advocacy Center to reverse a referee's ruling that he couldn't be on the sidelines. Procedures were established and a training document was produced to help referees work with the disabled. Click on Clinton High Student Can Return To Football Sidelines by Adam Longo WATE Channel 6 website, Knoxville, TN to read about Kyle's big win. Click here for more on Kyle and other wheelchair related news. Click here for more on officials, wheelchairs, and the law.
Big Ten Blind-Ref Lawsuit
Chicago, IL. July 17, 2006 - One-Eyed Ref Sues Big Ten Over Termination (CBS 2 website - story from Chicago Sun-Times Newsgroup Wire). For More, See UM Coach Carr Responds To Blind Ref Lawsuit (Sports Law Blog Aug. 2, 2006).
Huge Independent Contractor Dispute In Connecticut
Elite soccer program refuses to pay employment taxes on coaches; hires ten year old kids to officiate younger kids' games and claims the kids are independent contractors. It's Goalkeeper vs. Bookkeeper as I.R.S. Audits Youth Soccer, by Tina Kelley, New York Times, June 25, 2006. (Schools, leagues, governing bodies, and officials all have a stake in independent contractor issues and generally want officials to be independent contractors, but has the Fairfield United Soccer Association gone too far?). For more, see IRS Targets Local Soccer League by Edward J. Crowder, Connecticut Post Online, July 8, 2006.
Oklahoma - December 2005 - Oklahoma Supreme Court upholds Oklahoma QB's Suspension. Playoffs will resume. The Tucker Brown case was a classic case of a modern day athlete lacking the composure to comport himself in a sportsmanlike manner and then complaining and suing when he received his penalty. Brown got ejected from a playoff game for kicking an opponent. He then went to court and argued that the Oklahoma high school code's suspension language shouldn't apply to playoff games and that the officials weren't good so he had no choice except to kick the opponent. When all else fails, sue and blame the officials Read the Oklahoma Supreme Court's Opinion here.
Click here for earlier reports on this story. The Oklahoma Supreme Court refused to substitute its judgment for the officials. For a similar incident with a similar result see this article about the 1999 Iowa golf championships.
Oregon 2003 Law Part of Modern Trend To Empower Officials
An Oregon law passed in 2003 reflects a modern trend to empower officials by requiring spectators, coaches and participants to leave a game site when ordered to do so by an official. SeeOregon Revised Statutes 164-276 and 164-278.
Child Labor Law Issues
Darien, IL. - May, 2002 - Red Tape Behind The Plate by Dave Kindred, The Sporting News, May 27, 2002 (paid youth umpires may violate Illinois' child labor laws). For local coverage see,Labor Agency Plays Hardball With 12, 13 Year Old Umps by Ted Gregory, Chicago Tribune, April 18, 2002. The problem was solved in less than three months. See State Goes To Bat For Young Umps by Christi Parsons and Ted Gregory, Chicago Tribune, June 28, 2002 (reprinted in Minnesota Issue Watch, September 2002) (reporting on 2002 Illinois exception to child labor laws, allowing children as young as 13 years old to officiate youth athletic contests). Click here for Governor's Press Release. Click here for Illinois's Child Labor Laws.
Note: A number of states have enacted youth sports official exemptions to their child labor laws in the past few years, but I am sure that a lot of states still don't have an exception. People who employ children as sports officials should check their local laws.
State Exemptions To Child Labor Laws: Minnesota, Missouri (12 year olds may officiate - see Missouri Rev. Stats. 294.011(7)(d)., Washington (youth soccer referee exemption) also click here for the Washington Bill Report on SB 559 (2007), Virginia (12 year olds can officiate),
June 8, 1999 - Racine. WI - Barry Mano, head of the National Association of Sports Officials, says, Beef Up Penalties For Assaults on Sports Officials, Racine Journal Times, page 6A - Opinion.
Site Administrator's Liability To Attacked Officials. Schools need to provide "appropriate" security or they can be liable for injuries to spectators and officials. Schools can be found liable for things that are foreseeable. So if you don't provide security for your site when you have the big game with 3,000 fans your school could pay the legal price if someone is injured. On the other hand, you probably won't be liable when you don't provide security for the JV game on Saturday morning before 30 parents - unless those parents have some history of violence. The site administrator may be enough security for that game. For more, see my Jan. 2007 article: When Security Leaves You On Your Own. Also, click here for Talaszan v. Northridge Arena Soccer League (arena was liable because previous violence made need for security foreseeable) and see McKee v. Gilg, 96 Ohio. App.3d 764, 766 (1994) (baseball team not liable where fan misconduct was not foreseeable).