The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association is expressing its support of a sponsored bill in the legislature that would make it a Class A misdemeanor to harass or intimidate a sports official in response to action taken or with intent to influence a referee, umpire, judge or anyone serving similar functions.
Bill LRB 4781, to create a state statute, has received support in the assembly from Rep. Don Vruwink, Rep. Todd Novak, Rep. Lisa Subeck, and in the Senate from Sen. Andre Jacque and Sen. Jeff Smith. Other organizations supporting the bill include the National Association of Sport Officials, Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association, Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Currently, it is a Class B forfeiture if an individual harasses, intimidates, strikes, shoves or kicks another individual, or if the individual engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits harassing or intimidating behavior with no legitimate purpose. Bill LRB 4781 creates a new crime for harassment and intimidation of a sports official and revises the existing penalty. Statistics from the NASO Legislation Scorecard indicate 13 percent of sport officials have been assaulted by either a fan, coach or player.
The bill proposes a possible penalty of up to 40 hours of community service work, as well as any other penalties associated with the crime. In addition, it may require the violator to participate in counseling, including anger management or abusive behavior intervention, at the violator’s expense.
“Responding to the national crisis as a result of the shortage of amateur and youth sport officials, we applaud and recognize the Wisconsin legislature’s bipartisan efforts to create protections for the men and women that officiate these events,” WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson said. “We are grateful for their willingness to help protect and preserve these school-based activities, as well as youth and adult recreation opportunities, which contribute to the fabric of our communities and society.”
There are 24 states that have assault legislation, civil statutes or supportive resolutions protecting sport officials. Nearly 48 percent of male officials and 45 percent of female officials have responded in a survey that they have felt unsafe or feared for their safety in connection with involvement in officiating.
The decline in the numbers of high school sports officials continues at a concerning rate, and the recruiting and retaining of officials are made more difficult by the lack of sportsmanship at interscholastic and youth events. Fifty-seven percent of officials believe sportsmanship is getting worse, and they identify parents, coaches, and fans as the cause of most sportsmanship issues. Surveys also indicate 43 percent of officials state that most new officials quit within the first one-to-three years.