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Missouri bill aims to protect referees from harassment and threats

Published: Apr. 20, 2021 at 10:01 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Keeping the game on the court and intimidation off the sidelines, a Missouri bill would protect referees from angry parents and fans.

Missouri House Bill 78 would make it an offense to harass a school or recreational athletic official. Under the bill, the term harassment is defined as “verbal or nonverbal behavior by a person that would cause a reasonable person to be placed in fear of receiving bodily harm.”

A video on social media showed a bit of a brawl between a referee and a fan in St. Louis over the past weekend during a Springfield basketball team’s tournament. While many incidents do not get to the point where punches are thrown, a few Springfield parents say they have certainly seen things get “heated” before.

“I’ve heard profanity several times” parent Britny Fulks said. " I’ve seen lots of parents get kicked out. I’ve seen parents hit the bleachers.”

It certainly is not out of the ordinary for fans, parents or even coaches to get a little fired up in the moment.

“A lot of times parents get rattled up because it’s their babies and so they don’t want to see them treated unfairly,” Fulks said.

Dana Brown has reffed basketball games quite a bit over the years, and an occasional taunt is not anything new for him.

”We shrug it off,” Brown said. “You kind of develop thick skin for this job. You’re not really in it to make friends. You’re here to call the game to the best your ability.”

Brown said he has not really witnessed any serious incidents between referees and fans before at The Fieldhouse Sportscenter in Springfield, but he said holding people accountable when things do get out of hand would certainly help.

Parents also say that kind of behavior can create a bad environment.

”There’s not a place for it,” Travis Fulks said. “A month from now you’re not going to remember the score of that game or the call that ref made.”

Under the bill, anyone who commits the offense would face up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. They could also face 40 hours of court-approved community service work, anger management counseling and could also be ordered to participate in abusive behavior intervention groups.

”Ultimately we are responsible for our own actions, so hopefully this will help them realize they’re responsible,” Brown said.

And on the sidelines, parents say this could also help make sure those reffing jobs still get filled.

”Places are having a hard time finding referees and umpires, and part of it is because of that,” Travis Fulks said. “These referees and these officials, they need protection.”

Not to mention keeping a family friendly environment safe and fun for the kids on the court.

”The players, it really rattles them,” Britny Fulks said. “I mean if they see their dad get kicked out, I mean nobody wants to see that.”

House Bill 78 also addresses fans who enter or remain on-site at an athletic contest after being banned.

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