Harassment of sports officials could become its own offense in Pa. | News, Sports, Jobs


A football official is pictured in a recent Eisenhower-Mercyhurst contest.

Some Pennsylvania senators are throwing a flag on harassment of sports officials.

Harassing sports officials could become a separate offense in the state under a bill that recently passed the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

Under Senate Bill 842, known as the Respect the Whistle Act, would make harassing sports officials a third-degree misdemeanor. Standard harassment charges can range between a summary or third-degree misdemeanor grading.

“Too often we turn on the news to see scenes from a sporting event in which violence erupts from spectators after a referee makes an unfavorable call,” primary sponsor state Sen. Jimmy Dillon, D-5, said in a co-sponsorship memorandum. “Unfortunately, I have seen firsthand how one call can cause tempers to rise and lead to outbursts of violence.”

Warren County School District Director of Support Services Gary Weber said, locally, the district takes a hard stance against abuse of officials.

“We don’t tolerate the harassment of sports official,” Weber said. “We work closely with the officials and assigners and appreciate the job that they do.

It is written in the PIAA and our own district code of ethics within our athletic handbook. We have game managers and/or administrators at most contests to ensure that this is not happening.”

The legislation would compliment previous efforts aimed to curtail assault against officials that have been in place since 1990.

“State law currently contains increased penalties for assault against a referee,” Dillon said in the memorandum. “Our current laws are not adequately protecting officials, as they are still facing threats and harassment in the course of their work in many situations that would not qualify as assault but nonetheless should not be condoned.”

According to Dillon, a majority of sports officials view harassment as an issue.

“Nearly half of these officials have reported feeling unsafe due to the actions of parents, coaches, or players,” he said in a release. “More than 68 percent of officials think sportsmanship is declining. Over 67 percent have kicked out a spectator due to bad behavior. More than 55 percent have had to break up a fight during a game. And 60 percent of officials who quit the profession say it’s because of verbal abuse from parents and fans.”

The bill passed the judiciary committee with a bipartisan majority of 13-2. It will now move on to the full state Senate for consideration. A companion bill, House Bill 297, is currently in the state House of Representatives.

The National Association of Sports Officials and Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association have expressed support for the measure.

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