The recent blown call by officials in the NFC Championship Game that led New Orleans Saints fans to petition the NFL for a rematch is only the latest example of outrage directed at sports officials. But while pro sports referees and umpires are highly trained, unionized, and well-paid to put up with criticism, the same is not true for interscholastic and youth sports officials around the country. Multiple states, including California, Minnesota and Tennessee, are dealing with a shortage of youth referees due to increased abuse from coaches and parents. In fact, according to the National Association of Sports Officials, 80 percent of officials quit within two years of being hired, with 75 percent citing "adult behavior" as the primary reason. Another survey last year found similar results.
Referee abuse and harassment is also an issue here in Texas. "People are especially getting away from the youth leagues, because the conduct of the parents and coaches along with the overall attitude (toward officials) is getting to the point where it's just not worth it," says Michael Fitch, executive director of the Texas Association of Sports Officials. "In our organizations, we have some members--especially more experienced ones--who are just refusing to go work junior high games just because of the abuse."
As for what to do about these overzealous parents, Fitch points out that participating in competitive sports is a privilege, not a right. "When a parent just refuses to conduct themselves in a proper manner, you just ask them to take their child and leave," he says. "Parents don't realize that all they're doing is embarrassing their poor kid, making everyone sitting around them uncomfortable, and just basically making a nuisance of themselves."