States failing to conduct background checks on referees

December 22, 2014 / Athletic Administration
Several states are failing to conduct background checks on high school sports referees, and not surprisingly individuals with criminal histories are showing up to work games.

refereeThe Boston Globe published a lengthy feature Sunday, examining the lack of safeguards while calling attention to at least eight individuals in Massachusetts who are certified referees despite having convictions for serious crimes.

One of those crimes is distributing cocaine in a school zone. Another is sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy.

From The Boston Globe:

At least 20 states require criminal background checks for athletic officials in schools, and Tom Lopes, executive director of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials, said he expects every state one day to screen referees for criminal records.

But there has been little action in Massachusetts. The vast majority of sports associations that train and certify referees listed by the MIAA do not conduct criminal background checks. Nor do school districts.

State law requires school employees and volunteers who may have unmonitored, direct access to students to be screened for a criminal record. Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said the superintendents believe the referee checks are necessary and have asked the MIAA to conduct them, to no avail.

On Friday, the MIAA’s associate executive director, Richard Pearson, said his organization is taking the matter “very seriously.’’ He said the MIAA’s board of directors is scheduled to receive a final report on the issue in February and will decide no sooner than next fall whether to begin screening referees for criminal records.

The article is worth your time. In it, the Globe found that the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association discovered one of its referees was a sex offender nine years ago, yet it continued to let him work games.

It’s surprising that nearly half of all states don’t require background checks on their referees. We’ve read a lot recently about sexual misconduct and abuse by coaches — cases that resulted in policy reform — so why should referees be treated any differently?

As the article points out, Colorado began requiring background checks last year after a basketball referee with a criminal history was convicted of groping four girls who competed in games he was officiating. This could happen anywhere, so it only makes sense to put safeguards in place instead of waiting for a crime to serve as the catalyst for change.

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