“Kill the umpire!”
Although many regard such outbursts as being as American as baseball and apple pie, the tradition has taken a nasty turn in recent years.
According to USA Today, it is becoming increasingly difficult for high schools and youth sports leagues to find and retain referees and umpires. More and more officials decide “it just ain’t worth it” to put up with: accusations of incompetence or favoritism; in-your-face cursing tantrums; threats of violence; and actual violence (including fatal assaults).
Yes, sometimes officials make a human error or give the benefit of the doubt to a particular team; but the escalating frequency and intensity of tirades show lack of respect, self-control and sportsmanship.
Stressed-out parents feel it’s downright upright for them to terrorize referees, because they perceive that their little darling’s’ inevitable college or pro career can be destroyed by a single disputed call.
Right, like there’s a recruiter somewhere saying, “Oooo, your father bullied a 150-pound referee into changing a call. If you also have an alcoholic uncle who conned a cop into tearing up a DUI ticket, we can promise you starting quarterback as a freshman!”
Players, coaches and parents have long given referees grief, but now it’s getting so bad that they even have to fear the geekiest of the marching band nerds. (“I’m going to give you such a whuppin’...wheeze...er, I know I said you’re blind, but could you help me ...wheeze...find my inhaler?”)
Schools worry that the average age of officials keeps climbing, as younger refs, unaccustomed to vitriolic feedback, drop out. This is borne out by statements such as “I think I know what to do with a flag, ma’am. Why, back when I was dating Betsy Ross...”
Even if cash-strapped athletic programs could afford instant replay, it wouldn’t placate the quarrelsome. (“I happen to know that the inventor of instant replay once spent a pleasant weekend in rival East Salamander Harbor. Conspiracy!”)
Many referees participated in competitive athletics as children. Traditionally, they’ve appreciated the chance to stay connected to their favorite sport as adults and give something to today’s youths. Unfortunately, their focus today must be on staying connected to 911, and all they give the youths is a moving target.
Some referees cope by dreaming up Fantasy FAN Leagues, competing to see who can imagine the most Gorilla Tape on fans’ mouths.
Schools and youth athletics programs are ramping up training programs and trying to weed out applicants who can’t walk away from an incendiary situation. One dicey way of handling a situation is asking an abusive fan, “What would Jesus do?” (“Probably turn your cataracts into wine and walk on your sorry rear end instead of water! Kill the ump!”)
Even worse is chuckling and assuring a parent, “It’s only a game.” That’s a sure way to achieve a moment of silence - followed by BOTH sides exiting the bleachers in search of tar and feathers.
Schools stress the need to beef up punishment for offending coaches, players and fans. Perhaps the best way to discipline overzealous parents would be to launch classes to train their kids to act even MORE like them. (“Broke my curfew? Yeah, Dad, I see Seth Meyers signing off, but from my angle, the clock says 9 p.m. And what do you mean Jenny and I should have used protection? We were safe, I tell you - SAFE!”)
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