Wisconsin bill would set greater penalties for referee harassment

December 11, 2019 / Athletic AdministrationCoaching
Wisconsin lawmakers have proposed a bill that would provide greater protection to the state’s sports officials.

baseball umpire
Photo: Kevin Hoffman

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) supports the bill, which would make it a Class A misdemeanor to harass or intimidate a sports official in response to action taken or with intent to influence a referee, umpire, judge or anyone serving similar functions.

Currently, it’s a Class B forfeiture if an individual harasses, intimidates, strikes, shoves or kicks another individual, or if the individual engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits harassing or intimidating behavior with no legitimate purpose. The bill creates a new crime for harassment and intimidation of a sports official and revises the existing penalty.

The bill proposes a possible penalty of up to 40 hours of community service work, as well as any other penalties associated with the crime. In addition, it may require the violator to participate in counseling, including anger management or abusive behavior intervention, at the violator’s expense.

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“Responding to the national crisis as a result of the shortage of amateur and youth sport officials, we applaud and recognize the Wisconsin legislature’s bipartisan efforts to create protections for the men and women that officiate these events,” WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson said. “We are grateful for their willingness to help protect and preserve these school-based activities, as well as youth and adult recreation opportunities, which contribute to the fabric of our communities and society.”

There are 24 states that have assault legislation, civil statutes or supportive resolutions protecting sport officials. Nearly 48% of male officials and 45% of female officials have responded in a survey that they have felt unsafe or feared for their safety in connection with involvement in officiating.

Rep. Don Vruwink, who umpires baseball and softball, and Rep. Todd Novak worked together on the bill. Other organizations supporting the proposal include the National Association of Sport Officials, Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association and Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

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