BUFFALO (WKBW) — If you are a parent that has been to a local baseball diamond or a hockey rink you've probably witnessed it. Spectators yelling and screaming at referees and officials. Sometimes taking it way to far. Now a group of local lawmakers have introduced legislation to further protect sports officials from harassment and assault.
Senator Patrick M. Gallivan and Assemblyman William Conrad have joined forces to say enough is enough. Sharing stories of the verbal and physical abuse sports officials often take.
"Unfortunately across the country and here in Western New York too many officials have become victims of harassment and assault, especially in recent years," said Senator Gallivan. "I have seen people getting chased to their cars," added Assemblyman Conrad. "People with lawn chairs folder up trying to swing at them. This is getting out of hand."
The new bill aims to modify New York's penal law governing harassment and aggravated assault to include referees and officials in every sport at every level. The new legislation would raise the charge for harassment from a violation to a misdemeanor, and assault from a misdemeanor to a felony.
The legislation would also require the State Education Department to establish a spectator information campaign for schools to utilize.
The hope is this new effort will also address a diminished interest in those who are willing to officiate because of the current climate. Especially in hockey.
"We have been losing forty-seven percent of all new officials every year," says Gary Cutler from the NYS Hockey Association. "The problem we are having is recruitment and retention," added Eric Gudzek, also from the NYS Hockey Association. "There are not young athletes that are aging out of the game that want to come when they see people become verbally abusive."
"We need to change the culture of parents and officials," said Cutler. "I think the education is really key."
The legislation would bring New York in line with thirty three other states who have created protections within the law for sports officials.