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New legislation proposed to help protect sports officials

NYS Senator Patrick Gallivan and Assemblyman Bill Conrad have introduced legislation to toughen penalties against people who harass, or even assault sports officials

BUFFALO, N.Y. — There is a new statewide push to protect sports officials.

New York State Senator Patrick Gallivan and Assemblyman Bill Conrad have introduced legislation to toughen penalties against people who harass, or even assault referees or umpires.

It would modify current state laws to include youth, interscholastic, collegiate, amateur and professional leagues.

The lawmakers cited a 2017 National Association of Sports Officials survey of more than 17,000 referees, umpires and sports officials from across United States.  The survey found that 48% of male officials had felt unsafe or feared for their safety due to the behavior of a coach, parent or player.  Forty five percent of female officials felt the same. 

“Umpires, referees and other officials are an essential part of organized sports, making sure the games are fair and safe for all involved,” Senator Gallivan said.  “Unfortunately, too many officials have become the victim of harassment or outright assault by spectators and others. This legislation will better protect officials from such activity and will send a clear message that this type of abuse will not be tolerated in any sport, at any level.”

Advocates say the bad behavior has a trickle down effect.

"It puts a burden on the limited amount of officials that are in the game, having to ref too many games. so it has an affect all the way down from not being able to host a game, not having an official, cancellation of ice time. nobody coming up on that side of the sport."> says Eric Guzdek, NYS Amateur Hockey Association.

“Sadly, I’ve witnessed it myself, at my 10-year-old son’s ice hockey games: Referees are all too often harassed and abused by parents who vent their frustrations at those we enlist to make sure competition is safe, fun and fair for our young athletes,” Assemblyman Conrad said. “Ultimately, this behavior disrupts the event, sets a terrible example for the kids, and undermines the overarching mission of creating an enriching, enjoyable and sportsmanlike atmosphere for all involved. No sports official at any level of competition should feel intimidated or endangered by a spectator, player or coach who disagreed with a call – and for those who do engage in such conduct, there ought to be meaningful consequences.”

The legislation would also require the New York State Department of Education to create a "spectator information campaign" to distribute educational materials to schools ahead of sports seasons.