Members Present: Bob Emeritz, Director, and Daniel Citrin, Wendell Domon, Chuck Keefer, Hap Kwiatkowski, and Chris Mroczek.
Complaint by Referee Alleging Harassment by the CRFT Hot Shots, U14 D4, During and After Game 2357, June 3, 2001.
Written statements in evidence included the following:
Oral testimony was given by:
- The referee's complaint;
- Statements by the coach and the manager at the time of the match, SCB Bays;
- Initial and Subsequent Responses by Crofton signed by the CRFT head coach and the manager.
Representatives of the Hot Shots (Coach, Manager, and Assistant Coach); Representative of the SCB Bays (Coach).
Representatives of CASRA, the referee's assigning organization, attended the hearing as observers, as did the Maryland State Referee Administrator.
Summary of testimony at the hearing:
The complaint filed by the center referee, a young woman now 17 years of age, stated the facts in pertinent part as follows:
"The game was a physical one and the Crofton parents shrieked from the onset, urging me to make calls and give cards for normal, aggressive play. Believe me, I made calls when necessary, but not for normal, aggressive soccer.
The referee's testimony at the hearing made it quite clear that the entire incident shook her deeply.
"Then, approx. 10 min. into the second half, the Crofton goalie was injured. The hit was not intentional - I stood by the goalie, and the other player involved in the collision, who was there crying. The Crofton coaches stalked over to the opposing coaches and proceeded to speak with great hostility toward them. I then approached the 4 coaches, hearing the Bays assistant telling them to "Get out of here."
"Croftons' response was "Shut up!" and then they proceeded to their injured goalie.
"The Crofton parents continued to berate me throughout the second half. Meanwhile, the Hot Shots themselves were cursing at the other players and amongst themselves, using excessive profanity. Some of it was also directed towards me, and I warned one player that if I heard it again, I would card her. She quieted down.
"After the game, the Crofton parents followed me as I was on the way to my car (my two linesmen accompanied me), threatening to "sue me," "kick my ass," they were going "to come to my house," etc. Another ref [arriving for another match] rescued me and made sure I stayed by his side until the hostile parents departed. It wasn't until I went to my next game that I realized that someone had written the words 'Shitsy refs' down the side of my father's van, which I was driving today.
"I am reporting this incident to you because I felt very vulnerable today - I have never seen such hostile parents in all of my soccer life, either as a player, a spectator, or as a referee. Thank you for your concern."
The Committee found the Crofton contingent largely without remorse. The overall position was that they were shocked to hear that the referee had filed a complaint, as there did not appear to be anything particularly unusual about the match. The team's manager made an effort to express regret in his concluding statement, and the coach tried to follow suit. The assistant coach was impassive and sullen throughout. On several occasions during the hearing, the coach became agitated, which had an impact on several members of the Committee.
The second-half interchange between the CRFT coaches and the SCB assistant, who was a woman, got pretty hot; it is described in the written statements, and was characterized at the hearings as a screaming match. Things escalated from there, and the post-game events were, in the Committee's opinion, the inevitable outcome of the mounting hostilities, the failure of the Crofton coaches to set a proper tone, and the unconscionable failure of the Crofton parents to self-regulate. One Crofton parent strode down the line to harass the parent-side AR, who was a teen-aged boy, multiple times during the second half, and no one made any effort to prevent it.
The referee's verbal description of the post-game events was chilling. A contingent of adults followed her from the field. She "heard parents yelling and shrieking at her." She heard threats and cursing. She could not identify the speakers individually, because she was afraid to turn around. She said the voices were those of adults, both men and women. She was obviously shaken by the memory of the events she retold.
Crofton attempted (in the written statements and at the hearing) to interpose a lack of evidence defense along the lines of "no one can say that the writing on the referee's car was done by anyone associated with Crofton." When pressed, the Crofton witnesses conceded that the likelihood that someone affiliated with their team was responsible was fairly high. It is important to note, however, that the writing on the car, while detestable, was not the only event that warranted sanction; it was merely the last.
The prevalence of harassment of soccer referees by coaches and spectators is a well documented fact of youth soccer life. As time passes and the depth and length of soccer experience in this country increases, one might well expect the frequency and intensity of referee harassment to decrease. This does not appear to be the case, however.
Soccer is an emotional and dynamic game in which emotions will run high. Disagreements over decisions by the referee are to be expected, and referees should (and do) make some allowance for the expression of these disagreements. Spectators and coaches must vent their displeasure, however, within sensible limits. The amount and vehemence of dissent that can be considered reasonable, moreover, must vary according to the age and experience of the center referee and her assistants.
Any team whose coaches and spectators fail to abide by these common-sense principles, who pursue and threaten referees and linesmen, do so at their peril, and the peril of their daughters who play the game. Where the referee is a teen-aged girl and her assistants are younger still, adult spectators are expected to behave themselves sensibly and with restraint; to see that children present at the match behave themselves also; and to take affirmative steps as necessary to police others from their teams whose behavior falls below the standard. The Hot Shots' spectators failed to live up to these requirements. Coaches are to exhibit composure, grace, and magnanimity of spirit in addressing referees and other participants, because they set the example for their players and spectators.
No teen-aged assistant referee should have to suffer repeated and unprovoked aggressive behavior from any spectator. No teen-aged center referee should have to be afraid for her safety as she leaves the field of play. No item belonging to a referee, whether equipment or vehicle, should ever be vandalized. No contingent of parents should be so oblivious or uncaring concerning the conduct of their fellows as to permit such behavior to occur unchallenged or unnoticed. And to the extent that this Committee can act to prevent recurrence of the events described in this proceeding, none ever will.
By a vote of 4-0 (Member Citrin did not vote, as he has a daughter who plays U14 D1), the Committee assessed the following sanctions, subject to approval of the WAGSL Board of Directors:
In accordance with WAGS Rule P.2.b., the Board of Directors has approved the recommended suspension.
- The team shall write a letter of apology to the referee, to be mailed to a CASRA representative, not to her home;
- A written censure shall be issued to the team's parents and to the coach; and
- The team shall be suspended from participation in WAGS through the end of the Fall 2001 season or the date that the referee receives the letter of apology, whichever is later. The team's Fall 2001 league fee will be refunded owing to its non-participation.