Originally Published: July 24, 2018 11:11 p.m.
Earlier this month, parents of two 12-and-under girls softball teams participating in a USA Softball tournament in Kingsport, Tennessee, got into a shouting match when the parents of players on one team thought the umpire was favoring the opponent.
Words led to pushing and shoving, which degenerated into an all-out brawl. Officials immediately barred the two teams from further participation in the 70-team tournament.
If you think the Donnybrook in Kingsport was an isolated incident, think again. Verbal, and occasionally physical, abuse of referees nationwide is rampant in youth sports. The lack of respect of officials is the main reason that more than 70 percent of new referees in all sports quit the job within three years, according to the National Association of Sports Officials. The turnover has led to drastic referee shortages across the country resulting in an epidemic of canceled youth games.
Like most of his brethren, Brain Barlow, a soccer official in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has repeatedly been the subject of disparaging comments from parents. But rather than abandon the profession he loves, he decided to fight back. Barlow created a Facebook page, Offside, on which he posts videos of unruly parents and spectators at sports events. He has received videos — hundreds of them — taken by people who witnessed rude, disparaging and aggressive behavior by fans, most of whom are parents of players.
Only a fraction of the videos Barlow has received are posted on his site. His motive is clear: Shame the adults in question in the hopes they change their ways.
“I do it to hold people accountable — to identify and call out the small percentage of parents who nonetheless create a toxic environment at youth sports,” Barlow told The New York Times. “It’s a very visual deterrent, and not just to the person caught on video but to others who ask themselves: Do I look like that jerk?”
Of course, the answer is yes, but whether that will motivate the guilty to change their ways is debatable.
A number of states have tried to address the escalating problem by increasing penalties for assault or passing laws making the abuse of officials a separate crime. Those are mostly ex post facto actions while Barlow’s approach attempts to prevent the offensive behavior from occurring.
Why the apparent uptick in such behavior in youth sports? One cause may be the overall lack of civility in society. Another could be the increasing cost of youth sports, where participation on elite teams, including equipment, training and travel, can cost from $2,000 to $20,000 per year per child. Such an investment can lead to heightened expectations by parents of their child’s athletic ability, especially if a college scholarship is the goal.
Given what transpires on the nation’s athletic fields, it’s understandable if some members of the younger generation have no respect for authority. Parents who act badly set a poor example for their children, while kids who do nothing wrong — like the softball players on the teams banned from competing in Kingsport — suffer for the sins of adults.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in and chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached at email@example.com.