Targeting actions that cause officials to fear for safety
A legislative bill introduced by a Louisiana state representative could lead to harsher penalties for anyone found to be harassing game officials, referees and umpires at school or recreation sporting events.
State Representative Cameron Henry (Metairie-R) crafted the bill, which dictates offenders be subject to fines and even potential jail time.
The bill and its penalties are targeted to only the most severe offenders, however, noting it is meant for anyone whose actions cause a game official to “fear for safety” during the event or near its venue. Violators would face a fine of up to $500, up to 90 days imprisonment and a requirement to fill 40 hours of community service and mandatory counseling.
The bill will be considered by the state House of Representative’s criminal justice committee. State lawmakers began their annual legislative session on April 8.
Lloyd Guillot of Destrehan, president of Pelican State Umpires and Officials, said while the proposed bill was news to him, there has been a push in the state among game officials to have improved security measures at games.
“This was our year (for officials) to negotiate a new contract with the LHSAA, and we opted to forgo pay raises in all sports and asked to instead spend extra money for security at games,” Guillot said. “Knock on wood, though, we haven’t had any major problems out here in our area.”
While he said he hasn’t heard any complaints from his officials about threats, he said hostility can arise when it comes to the emotion of competition.
“You see it and fans give it to the officials because a lot of times, they just don’t understand what’s going on,” Guillot said. “Unfortunately, at the recreation level, it’s also where you’re trying to train a lot of young officials. You don’t throw them right into the high school level, you work them upward.”
As such, disagreements arise.
“Everyone thinks their child is the next great star of whatever sport they’re in. I’m a parent, I remember how it feels to watch them and I had the chance to coach them as well,” Guillot said. “So, in their mind, how can anyone make the call and say my child’s out or safe? You’re not necessarily impartial.”
Umpires and referees do have some authority to remove an abusive member of the crowd as it is, though Guillot said his officials are taught to approach a member of the game site’s management to take care of the issue.
“We’ve been in places where a baseball umpire turns around and says, ‘you’re out of here, you’ve gotta go,’ but are you gonna go into the stands and throw them out yourself? So we try to go to game management so they can take care of it.”
Another way is to approach the coach of a team if a fan or fans are behaving poorly.
“All of this is for the kids to be front and center and have a great time. And sometimes, you do get people who take that spirit away.”- Bruce McDonald
“If things are getting out of hand, you can always go to the coach and say, ‘You’ve gotta settle them down, or we’re gonna end this game right now,’” he said.
It’s a profession that requires a thick skin. Many younger officials have quit midseason, Guillot said, because it can take a while to garner the experience to properly handle such situations.
“I always tell them, ‘remember guys, you’ve got one other friend out there and that’s the other umpire,’” Guillot said with a chuckle. “And the same coach that loves you today will hate you tomorrow.”
Bruce McDonald, who officiates high school baseball games, also said he’s never had a situation escalate into a point where he’s felt truly threatened, but there was at least one time it started to get uneasy.
“I’ve been followed out one time, and thought ‘okay, maybe this could get bad,’ so I called the deputy over,” McDonald said. “But we control the field. If we have to, we can call them over and remove irate parents, coaches, anyone detrimental to the game in any way.
“All of this is for the kids to be front and center and have a great time. And sometimes, you do get people who take that spirit away.”
Game official harassment bill
- Crafted by State Rep. Cameron Henry
- Would penalize anyone whose actions cause a school or recreation game official to fear for their safety during an event.
- Violators would face fine up to $500, maximum of 90 days imprisonment, 40 hours of community service and mandatory counseling.
- The bill will come to a vote in the upcoming annual legislative session after being reviewed by the House’s criminal justice committee this March.