Foul Bill

I'm looking through the Arizona Capitol Times for some reason, and I see a listing for a legislative House bill that reads:

HB 2161 Sports Officials: Assault.

Hmm. Sounds like a protected-class issue. Reading on:

"HB2161: Assault on a referee, umpire or other sports official engaged in official duties is a high misdemeanor. Sponsor: Rep. Carpenter."

Boiled down, the bill, which has been passed on to committee, suggests that any person who knowingly touches a sports official with "intent to injure, insult or provoke" is subject to six months in jail, which is six times more slammer time than for intending to injure, insult or provoke any other human being except a cop.

And I say to myself, "Hey, I wanted to deck that one umpire!" I think of the ump two weekends ago who made five bad calls in a row against both teams (meaning there was no partisanship), and he was so pathetic that both coaches were commiserating about the guy's stupidity. Then after the sixth horrendous call, he happened to overhear me loudly say to a friend:

"Hey, Mike, I'm guessing we'd be fired immediately for this level of incompetence."

So the bad ump looked back at me and then turned to the coach and yells: "That's a warning!"

So, at that point, I think the guy is both stupid and a rent-a-cop-like bully who loves wearing a uniform and exerting whatever power he can find in life, and my head gets full of things I want to say back. But I don't because I know at some very core level that this would be bad form in front of my 10-year-old and all his friends.

As I cooled down, I told myself that this guy's job is tough, which I know because I've failed at it myself, and this little game here is not a big deal in the scheme of things. Sure, this is the worst ump I've ever seen, but that is not the point. People have bad days. And there is administrative recourse here. File a grievance if you're fired up enough. The guy will be reviewed by one of the gazillion sports organizations in this sports-happy sprawl to see if he is a competent official. I tell myself I'll pursue that option. I'm quietly cheerful the rest of the game. I then forget all about filing a grievance once my 1-year-old craps his pants on the way home.

But later, when I was reading about HB2161 in the Capitol Times, the issue of harsh penalties for provoking or whomping up on the likes of umpires really hit home.

On the one hand, why should these guys get special treatment? Yet on the other, there is that rising tide of incivility in our society that, if not checked by people's sense of common decency, must be checked by legislation and legal ramifications.

It was clear that this bill was worthy of some, um, serious pondering.

I call its sponsor, Representative Ted Carpenter, but he was off in legislative meetings. So I begin calling regional and national experts in such things, as well as the people journalists now annoyingly refer to as "the stakeholders in the issue."

Bob Still, a spokesman for the National Association of Sports Officials, tells me this type of legislation is a big national issue and that Arizona and a couple other states are the next frontier in better protecting umps and refs from this growing tide of incivility. Sixteen states currently have similar legislation!

"The laws are necessary because people are increasingly attacking sports officials," he says. "The thing is: People are attacking the uniform, they are attacking someone who is placed there as an authority figure in a public place. We often are dealing with high levels of emotions, and with the number of people involved, we can become the subject of mob mentalities and near-riot situations."

Though we all saw those two fans jump out of the stands and assault that poor first-base coach last season, such laws aren't directed at the pros, he says. They are intended to protect the umpires and referees at amateur sporting events where parents seem increasingly willing to follow a lone official to his car and beat those blind eyes out of him.

Still says it's becoming increasingly difficult to find people willing to officiate sports events in these hostile environments. He says soccer parents are by far the most dangerous.

This is surprising to me, I say, because I always thought of soccer as a game for wussies and their wussy parents.

Then, duh, I realize what I'm saying. You don't hear the term "baseball hooligan," do you? "Soccer Mom" means "Soccer Hooligan."