Foul Bill

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I begin to get psyched about pulling those banshees from their Windstars and hauling them off to Tent City.

Still and I go back and forth. I say I understand the desire for this law, but I argue there are already laws in place to punish people for violence. I say there are many other professionals placed in quasi-cop roles in society. Where do we stop?

Do you have any statistics to support this perception that fans are increasingly violent?

No, he says. It's research that's never been done.

Hmmm. Know of anything in Arizona?


So I call Gary Whelchel, the affable and eloquent State Commissioner of Officials for the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

He agrees that soccer officials get more hell than anyone else. There is so much questionable contact in soccer. Same in basketball. Mom and dad see their loved child get bashed. They get angry, and worse can lead to worst.

"That said, we have story after story for many different sports," he tells me. "There is so much more vulgarity, everything. Legislation like this is just another tool we would have that lets us grab with teeth if you do something to a sports official."

Mixed metaphors aside, he gives an example. Right now in Tucson, officials are coming up with a citywide Spectator Code of Conduct following several incidences at Tucson high school games.

I thought, too, of the Show Low-area students yelling, "We pay taxes, yes we do, we pay taxes, how 'bout you?" at the opposing fans from the nearby Apache reservation. It was a three-pointer comedy-wise, but a flagrant technical foul human-dignity-wise.

But does any of this, including the Tucson incidences, have anything to do with anybody in Arizona trying to beat sense into a bad sports official?

No, Whelchel says.

Let me get this straight. So there's been nobody in Arizona, much less the Valley, who's beat up a sports official?

"None that I know of," he says. "But things are definitely rougher verbally. It's just a matter of time. And I don't see why we can't be proactive in addressing a problem instead of waiting for something to happen."

I argued, though, that the lack of any sports official getting pounded in the Phoenix area may suggest another trend:

Whelchel and other leaders in the amateur sports community here have done a hell of a job proactively educating coaches, fans and players on proper sports conduct while also doing a hell of a job teaching local sports officials how to calmly defuse a potentially volatile situation.

And they've taught most umps and refs to put on a thicker skin when they hit the field or court.

I tend to believe this because I see a remarkable level of professionalism by most umpires, a remarkable level of preseason training for coaches and parents and a remarkable amount of civility at most sporting events I attend, even when the rare official is a moron.

Could it be that amateur sports officials in the Valley have actually succeeded in bucking a national trend of incivility with proactive education rather than retroactive punishment?

Whelchel doesn't argue with my observations. But he still says legislation is needed.

Well, okay. Good luck. Maybe you're right.

Eventually, I get a call from Representative Carpenter.

I begin my spiel. Interesting legislation. Lots of issues. Is this the next wave of hate-crime legislation? Is America less civil? Where is the proof of that? Do we really need some sort of quantitative proof of local incidences to provide extra protection? I tell him I'm interested in writing about his bill because I'd imagine that, although it has passed easily in some other states, it would bash up against the state's neo-libertarian conservative bent.

Carpenter listens quietly. I shut up. There's a long pause.

Finally, "Robert, here's the deal," he says. "I just filed that bill as a favor to a constituent. The kids in the government class out at Deer Valley High School wrote it up. It was a project. I don't know what they based it on. I've got to admit I know almost nothing about it.

"I filed it last year," Carpenter continues. "Eight of the kids came down to argue for it as a class thing. I filed it this year again thinking they wanted it again. But I haven't seen the students, or anybody for that matter, come down in support of that."

Uhhh . . .

I say, "But I just talked to the heads of both the state and the national organizations that would be involved with such things, and they said they were very strongly in support of this bill."

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Robert Nelson