The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) is expressing its support of a reintroduced bill in the legislature that would make it a Class A misdemeanor to harass or intimidate a sports official in response to action taken or with intent to influence a referee, umpire, judge or anyone serving similar functions.

The bill to create a state statute has received support in the assembly from Rep. Todd Novak and Rep. Alex Dallman, and in the senate from Sen. Joan Ballweg and Sen. Andre Jacque.

An identical bill was introduced near the end of last session and has been reintroduced at the request of the WIAA, National Association of Sport Officials (NASO) and the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The proposal is also supported by the Wisconsin Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), the Wisconsin Youth Soccer Association (WYSA) and the Wisconsin Soccer Referee Development Program.

Currently, it is a Class B forfeiture if an individual harasses, intimidates, strikes, shoves or kicks another individual, or if the individual engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits harassing or intimidating behavior with no legitimate purpose. The bill would create a new crime for harassment and intimidation of a sports official and revises the existing penalty. 

Statistics from the NASO Legislation Scorecard indicate 13% of sport officials have been assaulted by either a fan, coach or player.

The bill proposes a penalty as a Class A misdemeanor, which can carry a fine up to $10,000, up to nine months in prison, or both. The bill also allows judges to impose up to 40 hours of community service work or counseling, including anger management or abusive behavior intervention at the violator’s expense.

There are 24 states that have assault legislation, civil statutes or supportive resolutions protecting sport officials. Nearly 48% of male officials and 45% of female officials have responded in a survey that they have felt unsafe or feared for their safety in connection with involvement in officiating.

The decline in the numbers of high school sports officials continues at a concerning rate, and the recruiting and retaining of officials is made more difficult by the lack of sportsmanship at interscholastic and youth events.

Fifty-seven percent of officials believe sportsmanship is getting worse, and they identify parents, coaches and fans as the cause of most sportsmanship issues. Surveys also indicate 43% of officials state that most new officials quit within the first one to three years.

Let’s hope the legislation advances, as athletes can’t play the games without officials.