Texas sports officials combat abuse by fans with new ‘three strike’ policy

Texas sports officials combat fan abuse with new ‘three strike’ policy
Published: Aug. 12, 2022 at 9:04 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 12, 2022 at 9:13 PM CDT

NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - The official start of the football season is just a couple of weeks away. While it’s an exciting time for fans, it can turn sour for those who are officiating the game.

Bill Theodore, Assistant Executive Director at the Texas Association of Sports Officials, says years of abuse by fans has caused officials to quit the profession.

“It’s not recruiting that’s the problem,” Theodore said. “It’s keeping them that’s the problem.”

Since 2019, the number of sports officials in Texas has gone down by 10 percent, according to the association. That means fewer referees are monitoring games in the 1,500 school districts across Texas.

The number one reason is abuse from the fans of the game.

“We’re having officials accosted by fans in the stand and verbal abuse,” Theodore said. “Or they’re waiting on them in the parking lot after a game. The things people have done at a seventh grade ball game, fans should be ashamed.”

This has caused a mass exit from officials, with some quitting after their first game due to harassment, according to Theodore.

“I get yelled at at home,” Theodore said the officials told him. “‘I don’t get paid enough to get yelled at in the gym.’ So they just give up.”

A study by the National Association of Sports Officials found that 13 percent of current or former referees had been assaulted physically during or after a game. 46 percent of them said they had at one point feared for their safety while on the job.

“There’s not a week that goes by that you don’t read some report of an official being assaulted somewhere,” Theodore said.

Theodore says the last several years abuse of officials has gotten out of hand, and it reached its peak at a Spring soccer tournament where officials were being “abused by fans.”

The officials told the school they would not be returning to finish the tournament; that’s when the school brought in the officials leaders to find a resolution.

“One of the school employee’s phones starts ringing during the meeting and it’s someone from the soccer field,” Theodore said. “We had an all out brawl over there.”

In response, the Texas Association of Sports Officials created the “three strike rule.” It went into effect this month.

If three incident reports are filed at a school, the school loses their officials for all sporting events.

The schools get seven days to find a plan to find a resolution to abuse directed at the officials.

“We’re going to give them a date and say you’re going to lose officials after this date,” Theodore said. “And you’re not just going to lose officials for this sport, but any sport that we cover. We’re not going to send officials until you fix this problem.”

The goal of the policy is to get schools to work with the Texas Association of Sports Officials and help fix a problem that’s run rampant at games for years.

“We have a process of accountability,” Theodore said. “But who’s holding the fans accountable?”

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