I started refereeing in 1978 so I have been officiating for 37 years. The only regret that I have during this time is that I did not wear a black baseball cap when I started.
My referee career began when sun tan lotion was used instead of much more effective sun block. Who knew that the sun’s rays could be so harmful? It was not nearly discussed as much as it is today. During the 1990s, referees started discussing the skin cancer issue much more than they had in the past.
The treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers increased by nearly 77% between 1992 and 2006. Over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined and one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lives.
Over two decades ago, I had an unusual spot on my left arm so a dermatologist performed a biopsy. It was scary to see a hole on my arm that you could have put a dime inside but the diagnosis was a blue nevus, which is not cancerous. I then avoided the sun so I refereed as far away from mid-day as possible and when I did, I put on layers of sun block and would wear long sleeve shirts if it wasn’t too hot. But assignors only had so many games in the early morning and night and they needed my help.
U.S. Soccer addressed this issue, 21 years ago in its Fair Play magazine:
“Under normal circumstances, it is not acceptable for a game official to wear headgear, and it would never be seen on a high level regional, national or international competition. However, there may be rare circumstances in local competitions where head protection or sun visors might sensibly be tolerated for the good of the game, e.g. early morning or late afternoon games with sun in the officials’ line of sight causing vision difficulties, understaffed situations where an official with sensitive skin might be pressed into service for multiple games under strong sunlight or a referee who wears glasses needing shielding from the rain.”
Not long after, I took to wearing a plain black baseball cap for recreational games from April to September to avoid some exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. After all, me and many other refs officiate several games on weekends. Wearing a hat is good preventive medicine and most players and coaches have absolutely no problem with an official wearing a black baseball cap during the game in appropriate weather.
It’s even allowed as part of the official uniform for college and high school soccer. If U.S. Soccer did the same, they and Official Sports could even make some money by mandating that a black baseball cap with the U.S. Soccer logo be the cap used by referees.
After wearing a black cap for three months in the sun, I noticed that the color has turned to dark gray so it’s time to buy a new hat. But much better that the hat has discolored rather than my scalp or face.
My good luck has worn out, though, as damage was done when I was refereeing all those years without a cap. In 2013, I had Mohs surgery for both basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, two types of skin cancer, in two places on my scalp. One spot was superficial but the other was relatively deep.
I had many friends to ask for advice about skin cancer as a large number of my referee colleagues who also have been officiating a long time could talk to me from personal experience. It’s time that we take the sensible step and allow referees to wear caps when officiating any youth game.
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 9,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In "Preventive Officiating," he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at www.preventiveofficiating.com.)