Commentary

The Skin Cancer Dilemma for Refs

By Randy Vogt

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.)

9 comments about "The Skin Cancer Dilemma for Refs ".
  1. R2 Dad, April 20, 2015 at 11:33 p.m.

    That squamous cell can be dangerous. Even basal cell is a problem if it grows deep or near cartilage. Glad to hear you've gotten treatment and have that under control. I've had basal cell for about 10 years and as long as I get the annual freezing/burning/cutting, my derm is able to keep it in check. My basal cell is pretty easy to spot; it's located where I start to spontaneously bleed so if that sounds familiar one should get it looked at. Even though it's slow-growing one should address that right away, especially around the nose and ears. This isn't just for grandparents--my basal cell started before 40. Normally I wear long sleeves and a hat and assignors haven't complained. I like to wear sunglasses as the AR but it interferes with eye contact as the Referee (and yes, you can get basal cell of the eye but it's rare).

  2. James e Chandler, April 21, 2015 at 9:26 a.m.

    I found plain black baseball caps with no logo at Dollar General for $4-$5.
    I too have had basal cell growths removed.

  3. Andrew Bermant, April 21, 2015 at 11:18 a.m.

    Thank you for this article. This very subject came up at our local CALSOUTH association meeting last week. It is time not just for USSF to address this issue but for FIFA to issue a Directive that referee's may wear hats sanctioned by the relevant Associations. By the way, Official Sports has a black baseball cap with an embroidered USSF logo. I wear this hat whenever I referee.

  4. Robert Liles, April 21, 2015 at 12:18 p.m.

    I have had squamous cell as well, and Randy's post is very important. The problem is a conceit in the referee community that perpetuates the attitude of the US Soccer pronouncement of 21 years ago: "not acceptable", "never be seen", "rare circumstances", "sensibly be tolerated". This attitude continues in local associations to this day even where all of the games are youth games, when what US Soccer should be saying is that hats, etc. are recommended UV protection for the safety of all referees.

    Not to hawk a product, but I found a very good black, nylon cap at Duluth Trading (no logo) with a 30% longer bill that folds for easy stowing when the sun goes away.

  5. Jack DiGiorgio, April 21, 2015 at 12:36 p.m.

    It sound like my story. Since 1991 never put a cap on my...bold head, thanks also to our local referee instructor and the "chiefs" of FSR; "ABSOLUTELY NO HATS DURING THE GAMES" (even recreational....). I came down with the same problems listed in this great article by Randy. Thank you.

  6. Bill Bowman, April 21, 2015 at 4:01 p.m.

    Randy, I have been referring for 40 years, most without a hat and am a melanomia cancer survivor. My melanomia is on the top of my head. I have had two surgeries and one skin graft. I continue to referee all year round, but use a black hat to referee. Our local association has the no hat rule so I'm limited to youth games. No State Cups because of the no hat rule from Cal South, the area organization in Southern California. I have been a high school school referee since 1975. Approximately 7000 games from Division I to AYSO. Every American football official wears a cap, so why is Soccer so antiquated when this is a real health issue.

  7. Dan Eckert, April 22, 2015 at 9:50 a.m.

    There are times when YOUR safety (assuming it doesn't jeopardize the safety of the players) MUST take precedence over FIFA and local rules.

    My view - wear a cap and cover that noggin! It protects your skin, keeps sweat out of your eyes - keeps the sun out of your eyes - and should lower the chances of getting skin cancer. This is one of those no brainers. If the assessor has a problem with it - that should be the LEAST of his worries - healthy (and experienced) refs are hard to fine. This is one of those instances where we hold the power. For the VERY few of us that ref D1 College, NASL, MLS, or even FIFA games - maybe a different story. But of the 1000+ games I've done when younger - maybe only 10% fall into those categories. And of those games - maybe 30% were played in the middle of the day. In other words - only 3% of those games would have forced me NOT to wear a hat. I get the whole professionalism argument - but doesn't materially change the game? My opinion is no. Save your noggin I say and save your skin.

  8. Dennis o Gould, April 25, 2015 at 5:22 p.m.

    I have always worn a black cap when refereeing. Night games included, because stadium lights sometimes play havoc with the lenses of my eyeglasses. I can find black hats at embroidery sores that do team sports. They keep the rain off my glasses and double as a sweatband. If you are being assessed you know ahead of time, so don't wear it.

  9. Leia Ambra, May 1, 2015 at 9:43 p.m.

    I always wear a plain black cap. It keeps the sun out of my eyes, the hair out of my face, and, yes, doubles as a sweat band. Even on High School games. I think it is more of a problem NOT to wear a hat. Once I didn't and couldn't see one quarter because of the setting sun. No assignor has even complained. But, then again, I don't ref college, MLS etc.

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