Basketball official Jeffrey Bachman said belligerent conduct of amateur sports fans had escalated to a level that justified enactment of a special penalty for assault or battery against a game referee, official or umpire.
Bachman, a Salina resident who has officiated games for 30 years, told state legislators the threat was a reality in every Kansas community. Parents and other fans are creating an increasingly toxic environment at sports events, he said.
“It’s just gotten more abusive,” he said. “We try to ignore it and focus on the game. It’s getting more difficult. I’ve been followed to an official’s locker room. I had to have escorts to get to my car. I'm asking for your protection.”
His reference was to House Bill 2520, which would create a category of misdemeanor and felony crimes against a sports official. The penalty for these offenses against game officials would carry higher penalties.
Rep. Jim Karleskint, R-Tonganoxie, said he was concerned the legislation wouldn’t be an effective deterrent. The real problem is lack of respect for authority and elders, said Rep. Trevor Jacobs, R-Fort Scott.
Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican and chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, said consideration of the sports official bill would be rolled into debate on a similar measure later in the 2020 legislative session.
Eric Sartorius, a former referee and the executive director of the League of Kansas Municipalities, said the bill would give people running sports programs more leverage with unruly fans.
The pleasure of officiating a sporting event fades whenever outrageous fans cut loose, he said.
“It takes the fun and enjoyment out of it,” Sartorius said. “What we’ve seen in the past 10 years, two decades is this greater acceptance of vitriol directed at sports officials.”
He said conduct viewed as acceptable has been broadened and parents refuse to leave strongly held views on the field.
“It’s amazing that people think a Division I scholarship is riding on whether their 9-year-old child got to score in a game, but that is frequently the case,” Sartorius said.