Legal issues for officials take many forms. Some are obvious. Others not so much. It’s easy to see how injuries to players can be precipitated by officials. Examples include disregarding rules against unnecessary roughness, not inspecting a field for hazardous conditions, or not getting “the first foul.”
But what about the fouls and other bad things that occur during a game that should have been over before the “bad things” got worse? For officials, knowing when a situation demands ending games early can limit their exposure to untoward legal consequences. Truth be told, not knowing when the game should be over subjects everyone involved, including the officials, to increased risk of injury. And, when serious injuries happen, what more convenient lawsuit targets are there than the officials?
Let’s take some examples. In each of the following cases, a game was marred by some outrageous act.
• A high school football umpire is brutally assaulted between downs by two players in a blindside ambush as directed by their high school coach.
• Two high school football officials ask game security to move spectators a safe distance off the football sideline. They are then arrested by a deputy sheriff who is flaunting his badge and gun to show off in front of his invited guests and his son, a player for the home team.
• A basketball tournament sponsor pulls one of the game officials off the court at halftime, ostensibly because the official penalized a high-profile youth coach who had a tantrum and demanded the female referee be replaced by another official, or else he would pull his high-school age team off the court. Rather than following the rules, the sponsor elects to replace the official because a coach is dissatisfied with the calling of the game.
In each of these cases, the officials would have been entirely within their purview to end the games early, having ample evidence of dangerous, reckless, unsafe or illegal actions being committed by players, coaches or onlookers. The sad truth is though, that in each of these games, the remaining officials continued the game “for the kids.” Those are the same kids whose parents would sue the officials if their children had been injured by rough play or other circumstance that a full crew of able officials should have and could have prevented.
To make matters worse, continuing a game with officials whose ability to work the game is impaired by the irresponsible and sometimes criminal actions of other participants simply normalizes the bad behavior and telegraphs that officials are fungible. That is precisely what happens all too often when the game is continued “for the kids.” The irony is that the game really is “for the kids” who behave in many cases much more admirably than some of their elders.
The bottom line is that after the egregious events described above, officials had ample rationale for ending games early and turning the events over to the proper authorities, and frankly, they should have.
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