High School Athletes Strike Referees

With all of the talk of charging the two high school football players who intentionally struck an official here in Central Texas last Friday, I thought it might be interesting to see what had happened in previous cases of high school athletes striking referees. It turns out that it’s not all that uncommon for high school players to strike officials, and it’s also not uncommon for them to be arrested for it. Here, for example, is a case from 2013 in which two high school football players were arrested for punching a referee during a game. Here is a case from last Spring in which a Georgia high school soccer player punched a referee immediately after a game, and was charged with battery. In November of 2014, seven California high school soccer players were suspended from school after six of them surrounded the referee, forcing him backwards into a seventh player, the goalie, who shoved him in the back. It looks like at least some of those players may have been ruled ineligible, though it’s tough to say, as FERPA prevents schools and athletic associations from talking about individual players and, in most cases, individual punishments. Earlier this year Tennessee high school wrestler was barred from wrestling for a year, and ordered to attend anger management classes, after both shoving an official and striking one (apparently unintentionally) with a chair he had kicked. Lest we think this is a recent phenomenon, here is a case from 1997 in which a Pennsylvania high school basketball player punched a referee, and was charged with felony aggravated assault. The article mentions another case from the same year in which a New Mexico football player punched a referee during a game, but was not charged.

It looks to me, then, like it is not uncommon for high school athletes to strike officials, and it is not uncommon for them to be suspended from school and competition, and even charged with a crime, for doing so. The only difference between previous cases and the one that is currently receiving so much attention seems to be video, though even that is not enough to explain the level of attention it is getting nationally.

Oh, and there’s one more case, which I think we should keep in mind when making pronouncements about the sorts of consequences these kids should face. Back in 2010, a high school basketball player in Florida shoved and then body slammed a referee in a game. There is video, so it got some national attention, though nothing like the current case. The player, Mason Holland, was kicked off the team and suspended from school, though he was not charged. He ended up dropping out of school, and was later arrested for sex with a minor. In a strange twist, his former coach was also arrested for trying to bribe the girl’s family into not pressing charges. It sounds like Holland had issues that went far beyond the basketball court, and there is absolutely no excuse for raping an underage girl, but it’s worth noting that a kid who was in school dropped out soon after being suspended for his attack on a referee.

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50 thoughts on “High School Athletes Strike Referees

  1. It seems to me that expulsion from the team is unquestionably appropriate. Touch a ref, get ejected from the game. Attack a ref, get kicked off the team. No question about it, no appeal, no nothing.

    One thing that muddies things is the whole “criminal charges” thing coupled with prosecutorial discretion and whether the ref would want to press charges. I mean, A ref might not press charges. To what extent should this change things? A ref might want to press charges. To what extent should *THAT* change things?

    Any of you sporty-types who did the sports thing in high school: did your coaches ever tell you about interacting with the refs? If so, what did they tell you?

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    • I had coaches complain about refs, and I once got in trouble (ejected, in fact) for arguing with a ref, which got me nothing but heat from my coaches, but I don’t recall any coach ever telling anyone to say anything to a ref other than “timeout.”

      Added: I remember being encouraged to exchange pleasantries with the referees at the beginning of a game. “Hi, Mr. ____. How are you? Hope we have a good game.” That sort of thing. Get on his or her good side.

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      • I was wondering if there was something like “the only thing you should ever say to a ref is ‘yessir’ or ‘nosir’ and you should let *ME* scream at the ref that he’s blind, that he’s senile, and that I engaged in congress with his mother” from the coach or not.

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        • Yeah, I believe, though I could be misremembering, that we were told not to complain at all. Though I was as bad a listener then as I am now.

          In soccer, complaining to the refs was rampant, at every level. I cursed out refs and opposing coaches in rec leagues in middle school. Something about soccer culture just makes, or at least made it more acceptable for some reason. If I crossed a line, coaches would say something, but it was a very different line from basketball.

          A friend of mine who has played soccer since he was four told me this morning, “I’m not proud of it, but I’ve punched a referee or two.” That doesn’t surprise me at all, not because he’s a violent guy (he’s not), but because it’s soccer.

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      • Get on his or her good side.

        I participate in a sport — fencing — where the bout referee is as close to a demi-god as is possible. You can ask for an explanation why the point was given to your opponent instead of to you, but arguing about it is an automatic red card (another point for your opponent). Behave badly enough and there’s a separate black card that gets you expelled from the event.

        Anyway, I was at a recent tournament that had two of the better local fencers in the final bout. One is normally the most considerate guy around, and the other has a reputation as a hothead. Before the second period began, the quiet guy threw a fit (politely) over some technical issue that was within his rights to challenge. Appealed to the head referee, who resolved things in his favor, but after a lengthy delay. You could tell the regular referee was in no mood to tolerate any more sh*t from anyone. For the rest of the bout the hothead was focused on stopping his normal outbursts for fear of getting a red (or even black) card. Put him completely off his game, and he lost a bout he would normally have won.

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    • In high school hockey, it was pretty much “shut up” towards the refs unless you were joking around. The jokes better be pretty mellow or ask simple questions about the game. If you knew the ref you could joke around a bit more. In college it was the same. Don’t get in the refs faces. You could call the ref blind from the bench but don’t do it right to his face and make it to obvious.

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            • Meh…people have been giving out participation trophies for years. The world has kept revolving. People still care and love and all that good stuff. None of that has changed. In fact old people have been complaining about the kids nowadays being different and not giving a crap for approximately forever.

              I’m looking forward to getting another participation trophy myself in a couple months. Doing another marathon and ever shlub who finishes gets a medal. Imagine that, just finishing gets you a medal. Even slow ugly people get the same medal as sleakish mid packers like myself.

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              • I rate complaining about participation trophies up there with ‘slightly more important’ than people complaining about how playgrounds are ‘too safe’ these days.

                That is, I don’t consider it a completely idiotic thing to think driven entirely by pure nostalgia and lack of thought, but I also don’t really consider it an actual problem or issue.

                But hey, if you feel like grinding an ax on it, feel free. You’re making mountains out of molehills, at best, and I think you’re wrong — but hey, we all have our causes.

                The playground thing? I question your ability to reason and/or remember. Because I’m quite happy with modern playgrounds, insofar as they are not quite death traps like the steel-and-concrete monstrosities of my youth. (Seriously, steel slides in Houston? Happy second degree burn, kid. Assuming it hasn’t rusted into fun tetanus spikes).

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                • At least back when i was a kid old people had better “back in my day stories”. They were talking about the depression and WW2 and the holocaust. Nowadays old fogey adults don’t’ have good stuff to complain about the “kids these days”, its just trophy crap. I tell ya, we had a better class of whiny myopic old people back then.

                  Oh lord…old playgrounds. Yeah its a good idea to have asphalt under the climbing bars and swings, no kid ever falls off them.

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  2. Hell, when the coaches I was around had problems with the refs, they usually outright confronted them and either threw down right there or said enough to get ejected themselves.

    Refs are part of the landscape of the field, contact is not unusual, but outright physical attack was/is rare.

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    • Hell, when the coaches I was around had problems with the refs, they usually outright confronted them and either threw down right there or said enough to get ejected themselves.

      That’s my experience too.

      Of course, this was Little League, and the umps were mostly 12-year-old kids.

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  3. Chris:

    “It sounds like Holland had issues that went far beyond the basketball court, and there is absolutely no excuse for raping an underage girl, but it’s worth noting that a kid who was in school dropped out soon after being suspended for his attack on a referee. ”

    So what is your point, here? He shouldn’t have been suspended b/c that led to his other criminal acts? If so, that’s poor reasoning.

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    • I assume the reasoning is that when you take away the main reason a kid even goes to school, he’s less likely to go to school and turn towards the things people who don’t go to school do.

      I don’t think anyone is arguing that their shouldn’t be consequences for bad actions. I think the argument being put forth by me and some others is that often times these consequences — which seem to be focused purely on punitive measures — exacerbate the problem. Of course, the institutions exacting the consequences are often not the ones then charged with dealing with the larger problems, thereby incentivizing the responses we tend to see. The school can say, “We can try to help this kid, maybe succeed and maybe fail. It’ll be a lot of work. And if we fail or if he struggles along the way, we’re going to have to deal with it.” Or it can say, “Let’s get this kid out of our hair, off our ledger, and make him someone else’s problem.” Too often schools say the latter (in part because of all sorts of other incentives to take that approach).

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      • “I assume the reasoning is that when you take away the main reason a kid even goes to school, he’s less likely to go to school and turn towards the things people who don’t go to school do.”

        By “the things” is that a subtle way of saying crime? Incredible as it sounds, some folks who don’t go to school get jobs and obey the law but this little darling couldn’t.

        Besides, if he was such a problem, why keep him in school where he is going to be disruptive and impact all the other kids who are there and want to learn? Schools aren’t baby sitters and shouldn’t have to keep disruptive kids.

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        • Maybe crimes, maybe just anti-social or self-destructive behavior.

          If we think schools are just about the 3 R’s, we’re failing our kids. The development of executive functioning skills is a huge predictor of future success. And they are skills that need practice, refinement, and teaching. They are still being developed into the early 20’s. If we ignore this, if we simply say, “Hey, he’s out of control and there is nothing we can do about it,” we are failing in our charge as educators. Because there *is* something we can do about it. Maybe not in the traditional classroom setting, but sending him out into the world with zero skills and no options to gain those skills is essentially saying, “We don’t care about you. You’re not our problem anymore.” Is it any wonder those kids often end up where they do?

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          • ” Maybe not in the traditional classroom setting, but sending him out into the world with zero skills and no options to gain those skills is essentially saying, “We don’t care about you. You’re not our problem anymore.” Is it any wonder those kids often end up where they do?”
            This is an incredibly important point But also has an important point, that of making sure that the kids who do want to learn are able to without distractions. Setting aside the issues of sports, just trying to get that world straight would help 1000%. I don’t have an easy, fun answer outside of the fact it will cost money to do, but that is a serious issue.

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            • That is why I said “maybe not in the traditional classroom”. I’m not opposed to removing them from the main part of the student body IF that time is still spent productively.

              I remember the in school suspension room. The kids just sat there. All day long. Seriously??? What was the fucking point?

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      • I honestly don’t know, and to be honest doubt, that his suspension and subsequent dropping out had anything to do with what he did to land in jail. I’m more thinking, “This kid had issues, sure, but dropping out after a suspension is common. Do we want that to happen to these two kids, who may not have the sorts of issues Holland did?” They may be good kids who got carried away in the heat of a game, a game they were about to lose, something that happens to a lot of kids in most games, though they usually don’t take it this far.

        I think we should think really carefully about the consequences of the possible punishments for those kids, before we administer them. I don’t think there should be no consequences — I think suspending them from the team for the rest of the season seams obvious, though it’s worth noting that the actual referee we have here at OT suggested much more lenient treatment — and maybe in school suspension or detention. If suspension from school is absolutely necessary, I hope the school lets them make up the work and works to keep them from dropping out, if that’s a risk (which it may not be; I know nothing about these kids).

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        • There was some big study released many years ago that purported to demonstrate “No pass no play” rules actually hurt rather than help student athlete graduation rates at the high school level. I have no idea if it was a good study or a bad study, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t matter because nobody was willing to accept those findings regardless.

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          • There was some big study released many years ago that purported to demonstrate “No pass no play” rules actually hurt rather than help student athlete graduation rates at the high school level.

            That seems plausible, but I wonder to what extent it means that athletes actually getting more education without the rules, vs. their just formally graduating, maybe with the aid of a fews wink and nudges, without actually having learned any more.

            On the other hand, given the low standards even for legitimate high school graduation, maybe it doesn’t matter.

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        • It indeed sounds like Holland had troubles that went beyond his conduct on the field that day. Still, I’d venture to guess the likelihood of him doing what he did was higher after the punishment was handed down than had a different, more rehabilitative/supportive punishment been handed down. No guarantees, obviously.

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    • “So what is your point, here?”

      I thought his point was “Holland shouldn’t be used as an example of how high school players interact with referees, because there were things about Holland that aren’t generalizable”.

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  4. Chris:
    In soccer, complaining to the refs was rampant, at every level. I cursed out refs and opposing coaches in rec leagues in middle school. Something about soccer culture just makes, or at least made it more acceptable for some reason. If I crossed a line, coaches would say something, but it was a very different line from basketball.

    A friend of mine who has played soccer since he was four told me this morning, “I’m not proud of it, but I’ve punched a referee or two.” That doesn’t surprise me at all, not because he’s a violent guy (he’s not), but because it’s soccer.

    I’ve been playing Soccer in an adult rec league for 19 years and have never seen a referee physically accosted – in fact, I could probably count inter-player altercations that resulted in one or more red cards without taking goalie gloves off.

    However, I know very well from experience that yelling “Don’t let them make the call for you” will usually result in the yellow card being out of the ref’s pocket before she even finishes turning around…

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      • Good point – I wasn’t using the term quite correctly. I’ve just never seen it escalate to a player throwing a punch or, really, even making inadvertent contact. And even then, a player getting all up in someone else’s grill, much less a ref’s, is a once-in-a-year thing.

        But then the league I play in is the lower-key, less-competitive one, by my own choice. YMMV, especially if you’re in a league that has coaches, requires matching uniforms, etc.

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  5. This issue, about which I admit I’ve read only this thread, the last thread, and the NPR piece, really confuses me and I don’t know what to think of it.

    People seem to be framing the question as ruin the kids’ lives forever or suspend/expel them from school. The choice might not be as stark as that. In the last thread, someone mentioned a felony charge, while another did research into misdemeanor assault charges. If they are prosecuted, maybe they’ll be charged with misdemeanors and not felonies. To me that changes the calculus, at least a little bit.

    If there’s prison time, how much is too much? I’ve heard so many bad things about prisons, even minimum security ones, I’m reluctant to say anyone needs to go there unless they did something really bad. But assault and battery is really bad, and the one in question seems, from the video, to be a coordinated, pre-planned assault. That’s bad to me, and maybe 30 or 60 days in jail might be a good punishment. A year in jail? Probably not.

    But they’re not adults (or so I’ve heard). I usually don’t believe in trying children as adults, and I don’t believe they should be in this case, either. But a suspension from school, especially if it’s only 5 days or so, seems like a slap on the wrist. Trying them as children may not be as lenient as some people think it is, but maybe it’s an answer.

    Kazzy, in the other thread, mentioned the racial and class disparities. I don’t know how to answer that. On the one hand, I have no doubt that his claims about disparities are true, but on the other hand, I’m not sure that that ought to be the sole thing to guide us, in the vein of “what you did is wrong, but someone else might’ve gotten off the hook because they have money, so we’ll give you a lighter penalty.” That’s not what Kazzy’s arguing for, but that does seem to me like a takeaway someone can draw from what I presume to be his (very valid) point.

    Add to this, there’s still a lot I don’t know. Even the basic point–that they players conspired to coordinate a pre-planned assault against the ref–might not be as clear as it seems from watching the video. I’m not saying that’s not what happened–in fact, it’s certainly what it looks like happened–just that I’m not convinced that even a video of the event necessarily tells us enough.

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    • First, I appreciate you noting my comment/position more or less honestly and recognizing the nuance therein.

      Ideally, we’d retreat behind the veil of ignorance and say, “How do we want a high school football player who torpedoes a ref treated? Consider the possibility that you may find yourself in the position of the player, his mother, the referee, his son, or someone in Siberia who doesn’t know what football is.”

      Absent that, I actually tend to lean more on, “Let’s treat the rich white kids like we treat the poor Black kids and see how quickly we realize the outrageousness.” Which, yea, means more folks getting fucked by the system. However, those same people tend to think the system is working just fine so, I mean, what do they have to complain about?

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      • Blargh… I attempted to ETA a long rant about how other factors like age and gender (gender is huge!) factor in and we really need to better understand the neurological, social, and emotional development of young people — both those who are typically developing and those who are atypically developing — and, were we to do that, we’d realize just how fucked up our response to anti-social behavior in teenagers and young adults are. But no one wants to do that. Because it is really, really hard and it risks looking at really scary incidents like the one that just occurred and saying, “Those kids bear little responsibility for their behavior”… especially when the follow up question of, “Well, then who does?” is best answered with, “Us.”

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      • Because it is really, really hard and it risks looking at really scary incidents like the one that just occurred and saying, “Those kids bear little responsibility for their behavior”… especially when the follow up question of, “Well, then who does?” is best answered with, “Us.”

        Oh. Should I call up the ref and apologize?

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      • I suppose that neither of those scenarios–the one where we formulate a response from behind a veil of ignorance and the one where we treat the rich, privileged, etc., ones as severely as we treat the non-privileged ones–is really going to happen. And so we’re down to, should the specific people involved in this situation (like the parents, school officials, police, the ref, etc.) respond?

        Still, as for what we should do, I agree those are two pretty good examples.

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  6. Referees are given remarkable leeway in their decision making. The coaching/sporting culture that insists upon pretending otherwise – as if referees do not routinely influence outcomes – is infuriating to be a part of and infuriating to watch. It is frankly remarkable that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often given the emotion/testosterone involved, and that’s before we deal with the Texas game’s specifics.

    Refereeing can get comedically bad too, and yet…nothing. Just our weird, societal agreement that to even raise the possibility of inherent bias is to go too far, as if it is an impossibility. There are egregious examples everywhere of course but rarely is there punishment/retribution/justice. And in fact, we are repeatedly told that referees are human and what exactly can we expect? Which, fine, but athletes aren’t given the same leeway. That’s an odd thing about sports.

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      • The study(s?) I’ve heard of say that home court advantage is almost entirely based on referees responding subconsciously to fan pressure. I think one had soccer refs evaluate games on video with no sound and they called them dramatically different than when they could hear the crowd.

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      • But it will take a much longer time for that sort of technology to become available at a sub-professional level. NCAA men’s ball (foot and basket) are well-monied, and often well-camera’d, but other than that all the wonderful instant replay technology that lets us see that the wide receiver’s elbow touched the ground a fraction of a second before the football did and therefore it’s a catch instead of an incomplete pass simply isn’t going to be available and we have to go with what the human referee says she saw.

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        • For sure, though I mostly mean the sort of post-game evaluation that they use with ball and strike calls, which should be a bit cheaper and easier to develop.

          The problem now is that if referees are evaluated at all in most sports, it’s by other referees.

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  7. There’s also this – run-ins with referees are a daily occurrence in professional sports although obviously not to this degree. Still, look at Joey Votto’s reaction to not being awarded a requested timeout: http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/6479266/v467648383/pitcin-votto-pryce-ejected-after-arguing-in-8th The league publicizes this stuff!

    So there’s at least some awareness and understanding that situations will boil over athletically. Now replace highly-paid professional athletes with teenagers, who are among the worst human beings to ever exist on the planet at any given time, and it seems like a remarkably combustible situation. Again, it’s remarkable that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often.

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