The story begins with the assault of Kristi Moore, a softball umpire. A parent was ejected, and it sounds rightfully so. The parent met the umpire after the game and punched her right after she walked off the field. Kristi wonders what might have happened if the parent had a weapon, and it’s not a stretch to worry about something like that.
I’ve never been assaulted while umpiring baseball and softball games, but there were a few times where it very well could have happened. I’ve had parents and coaches rush me on the field, and I think the only thing that kept them from harming me was being able and willing to stand my ground and project power. Fortunately I’ve never had a player try to assault me, like what happened during this Texas high school football game, though I’ve been intentionally thrown at by a colluding pitcher and catcher. *Update: There was another horrifying incident which I felt compelled to add to this article about a 72-year-old umpire who was sucker punched by a coach after being ejected. It fractured his jaw in two places, requiring his jaw to be wired shut and extensive dental surgery. Not only did the coach (who was observed drinking between games) flee the scene afterwards, the parents yelled at the umpire while he received medical attention, telling him that he deserved it.
There have been multiple instances where law enforcement had to escort me and other umpires off the field and to our vehicles because an unruly mob wanted at us. One time in particular at a local high school baseball game, I genuinely believe that had it not been for the deputy and police officer standing between us, my partner and I would have been assaulted by a mob of people. You have to wonder how many people in that situation would have went home, reflected, and decided that officiating more games simply wasn’t worth it. I called for several more years after that incident, and experienced a few similar ones along the way.
I’ve had games where I’ve made bad calls. They’re going to happen, especially when there’s not enough officials (or another competent official) on the field to get all of the angles. These instances where coaches and parents have been downright terrible though? Those are generally times when my calls have been correct, surprisingly enough.
These people rain down abuse on the officials, and sometimes the coaches can be the worst of the bunch. Occasionally you have problem players, but in my experience it’s rare that they’re the issue. You have to wonder why these coaches are allowed back each year despite their terrible behavior, even if they didn’t actually put their hands on an official. I personally witnessed a coach threaten a teenage umpire and the coach had to be held back from assaulting them. If that coach received any punishment for their actions, I’m not aware of it, and they were right back at it coaching in their next game.
The coaches, administrators, and parents seem largely unwilling to help prevent these sort of situations. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of good coaches and parents out there, but there’s a lot of people perpetuating the problem as well. Administrators especially share a lot of the blame, as they are the ones who should be keeping order at their game complexes, yet constantly fail to do so.
Now there’s a shortage of game officials across all sports, and it doesn’t surprise me one bit. The pay isn’t all that great, especially once you factor in the equipment, drive time, gas, vehicle wear and tear, pre-game prep, clinics, and meetings. There’s a lot more to it than making $40 for working a game. That money is also taxed at double the rate by the federal government since it’s not an employee rate and there’s no employer paying the other half of the taxes.
Most people would stop at this point, but this is only part of the issue.
Many leagues and organizations aren’t interested in investing in their officials by offering convenient ongoing local training and mentorship. Some leagues are poorer than others, no doubt, but a quality experience requires an investment beyond the facilities and equipment.
Officials also have to deal with egos and politics from other officials and the organizations they work with to get their game assignments. Rather than accept that the politics are driving people away, veteran officials double-down and perpetuate the mindset that new officials must simply accept the circumstances; all while lamenting the fact that their ranks are steadily dwindling.
Inexperienced officials often also get stuck with low performance games and other inexperienced officials, assuring that they don’t get the necessary training, game action, and guidance they need to improve as officials. This doesn’t even go into issues with favoritism or falling out of favor with an assignor because someone had to go work their primary job or take care of a personal issue.
There are also many times where an official is sent to call a game by themselves, which drastically increases the chances of missing a call. It’s impossible for an official to see the entire field and what’s happening, even for veterans. Sometimes this is due to a shortage of officials, but also due to an unwillingness to pay for a second official to be present.
Sometimes there are officials who simply have no desire to improve, only to collect the money, do the bare minimum, and go home. These types are more likely to make egregiously bad calls, and it’s not unreasonable for people to be upset about it. Other times an official’s ego will inflame a situation, making outbursts from parents and coaches more likely. Do the actions of either of these situations excuse the actions of the coaches and parents? No, but it must be acknowledged that being able to calm down a volatile situation and working to ensure a correct call should be necessary skills and mindsets for officials. Other officials who find themselves partnered with these types end up questioning if they could be doing something better with their time.
Some officials keep at it though because they simply love doing it, despite the terrible things they endure. For love of the game simply won’t be enough in the end however, especially at the rate we’re going.