By Dr. Karissa Niehoff, Chief Executive Officer of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), and Mike Lunney, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Interscholastic League.
There’s an unfortunate trend continuing in Rhode Island and across the nation that must be stopped: the bad behavior of coaches, parents and fans at high school athletic events.
We’ve all seen it: the yelling, harassing, berating, and disrespecting of high school referees, umpires and other officials during and after games. And oftentimes, the harassment continues on social media. Perhaps you’ve witnessed it firsthand or even been one of those offenders yourself.
Not only is this behavior unacceptable and embarrassing, but it’s also having serious consequences on the future of high school sports.
That’s because another unfortunate trend is sweeping the nation: a critical shortage of high school officials in every state. The #1 reason? You guessed it: Coaches, parents and fans mistreating officials.
National surveys of officials report alarming statistics:1
- 55% of officials say verbal abuse from coaches, parents and fans is the #1 reason they quit.
- 59% don’t feel respected.
- 57% think sportsmanship is getting worse.
- 84% feel officials are treated unfairly by spectators.
- 46% have felt unsafe or feared for their safety due to spectator, coach, administrator or player behavior.
Officials are quitting faster than new ones are signing up. It’s a major area of concern for states like Rhode Island just to cover games. We’re already seeing Varsity games being moved and Sub-Varsity games being postponed or cancelled too. All because there aren’t enough officials.
Unfortunately, bad behavior at high school athletic events has become normalized. It is almost expected that coaches, parents and fans will disrespect the individuals serving as officials.
This culture of bad behavior and the negative perception of officials must change now. Everyone involved in high school sports—parents, coaches, administrators, fans, the media—must turn their focus to the student-athletes playing the games and away from the individuals officiating the contests.
The bottom line: With no high school officials, there can be no high school sports.
That’s why the NFHS is partnering with state high school associations across the country to launch the nationwide #BenchBadBehavior campaign. We’ll use the power of social media along with other tools to help educate everyone about the importance of good behavior at high school athletic events.
You can help by being a positive role model at your high school’s athletic events. And if you think you have what it takes to be a licensed official, sign up today at HighSchoolOfficials.com and help fill an urgent need in Rhode Island!
 Officially Human: The State of Sports Officiating 2020; National Association of Sports Officials: National Officiating Survey
I will be the first to comment on this timely op-ed. I usually stand between the stands and the field. I don’t think there is a game that I don’t photograph that some type of insult or worse is hurled from the stands. Most of these are aimed at the officials.
It’s a breath of fresh air when I cover a game and don’t hear something come out of the stands. Talking to the officials, confirms the op-ed nat. survey. Their biggest problem is the parents and spectators.
If the NFHS and RIIL want to highlight these people, all I have to do is turn my camera 180 degrees. Maybe the EG News can feature them in the game story. So after you hurl that insult… say cheese.
It begins at home!