Commentary

Defy U.S. Soccer: Wear a cap, ref!

By Mike Woitalla

It's 99 degrees Fahrenheit and not a cloud in the sky at one of these wonderful American soccer complexes -- with eight fields hosting scores of youth games all day long. Many, if not most, of the refs are working multiple games throughout the four-day event.

Even the bald refs and the ones with thin hair do not wear caps. I start asking them why they don’t protect their scalps. All of them say they’re forbidden to wear caps.

One of the referees, a fair-skinned man with very little hair on a scalp caked in sunscreen, said, “I wish I could wear a cap. It would also be good to cut down glare.”

I venture to the refs’ tent -- where indeed a couple guys are applying sunscreen to their pates -- and find the referee coordinator. I ask him if it’s true that he doesn’t allow the refs to wear caps.

“Yes,” he says. “We’re not supposed to. The Federation doesn’t want us to.”

This dangerous notion that refs can’t wear caps was addressed poignantly by Randy Vogt in his article for Soccer America last April: “The Skin Cancer Dilemma for Refs.”

Vogt, who has refereed for nearly four decades, wrote that: “The only regret that I have during this time is that I did not wear a black baseball cap when I started.”

Two years ago he had surgery for two types of skin cancer on his scalp.

Since Vogts’ article, I have surveyed many refs from recreational on up, and they are nearly unanimous in being under the impression that they aren’t allowed to wear caps.

It sounds absurd, of course, that the governing body of soccer in this country would deny referees -- people who are so integral to the sport -- a simple way to protect themselves from potentially deadly skin cancer. So I queried Rick Eddy, U.S. Soccer’s Director of Referee Development, and received via e-mail this response:

“U.S. Soccer's position on wearing caps is referees are not allowed to wear caps. Have you ever seen a referee at the international or professional level [wear a cap]? I never have.”

So referees across the USA are risking skin cancer because the guys doing Champions League night games or reffing one game a week in the EPL, La Liga or Bundesliga don’t wear caps?

He’s right, though. I haven’t seen high-level soccer refs wear caps. And there was a time when I wouldn’t have seen people put their toddlers in car safety seats or screw smoke detectors on their ceilings.

When I’ve asked refs and their bosses why soccer refs don’t or shouldn’t wear caps, the most common responses match Eddy’s that pro refs don’t, or that “it doesn’t look professional,” or that it’s “tradition” not to wear a cap.

Tradition is a feeble excuse for doing anything that’s dangerous to one’s health.

Doesn’t look professional? The umpires and refs in baseball, football, tennis and cricket all wear caps -- and of all the disrespect they get from players, coaches and fans, I have never heard that their headwear prompted it.

There is simply no reason why a soccer ref should not be allowed to wear a well-fitted, all-black or all-white, no-logos, baseball cap.

The pluses: prevent skin cancer; cut out glare -- especially for the ARs, who are often looking north-south.

The negatives: zero.

So don't wait around for U.S. Soccer or your local ref coordinator to give you the OK. Put a cap on if you need the protection. Last time I checked there was a ref shortage. You've got some clout.

Take it from Joe Machnik. You know him recently for providing Fox Sports with expert referee analysis during this summer’s Women’s World Cup. He is also one of the most renowned refs in American soccer history.

He is also fortunate to be alive, a melanoma survivor who required skin-grafting, 50 stitches and plastic surgery.

To be clear, Machnik says that he also didn’t wear a cap when he coached and worked his soccer camps. Back then, people didn’t know how dangerous the sun could be to our unprotected skin. We know now.

Says Machnik, "I don't see a downside to referees wearing caps."

20 comments about "Defy U.S. Soccer: Wear a cap, ref! ".
  1. Georges Carraha, June 26, 2015 at 11:21 a.m.

    I am going even further, Referees should not only wear caps but always long pants during cold weather. I often see Referees shivering while wearing shorts under cold rain or low temperatures. Let's me smart and focus on what we need: the right calls during games!

  2. James e Chandler, June 26, 2015 at 11:55 a.m.

    Dollar General (as long as they have them where you live) has solid black baseball caps with no logo for 4-5 dollars.
    I've had several basal cell growths removed from working outside all my life, so protecting my mostly bald head from further damage is just common sense.

  3. Raymond Weigand, June 26, 2015 at 11:57 a.m.

    I see caps in our region ... usually it's a black cap - less bulky than a baseball cap ... I thought those things were referee issued caps.

  4. Andrew Bermant, June 26, 2015 at 11:57 a.m.

    No disrespect to Eddy, but his answer shows just how disdainful USSF really feels about its non-PRO referees, the very referees who work 4 games, 8 hours a day on weekends - the lifeblood of the sport we love. The appropriate answer should have been: We understand there's an issue and we are considering solutions that will address the health and welfare of our referees. Then one month later return with a Advisory stating that "Referees may wear sanctioned hats provided such game(s) are not international or professional level." The hats should simply be black and include the USSF logo. I have 2 these hats that I wear when I deem it necessary that I purchased from Official Sports.

  5. Chris Sapien , June 26, 2015 at 1 p.m.

    Living near the coast, we don't have the weather extremes a lot of other refs have to deal with. That being said, we have always allowed the basic black baseball cap, but very few if any ever wear them. Personally I would rather make sure we have immediate shade adjacent to all fields, and head (pun intended) there immediately when not required to be on the field as part of a match. When CRing, I find the baseball style hat too hot anyway, but as an AR it could be useful a lot of times especially if sunglasses are also discouraged.

  6. Robin Buss, June 26, 2015 at 1:30 p.m.

    Excellent article Mike. I seriously suggest you, Randy Voight and Joe Machnik ("I don't see a downside to referees wearing caps") should work together to address this state of affairs . The cringe-worthy response from the Director of Referee Development, Rick Eddy, needs a counter response from people such as yourselves as this really is a problem that could easily be handled with a spot of common sense that clearly eludes US Soccer!
    Andrew Bermant (above) from CALSOUTH seems to have a good handle on this topic as I see he also commented on the Randy Voight article back on April 15. A

  7. Randy Vogt, June 26, 2015 at 1:55 p.m.

    As I pointed out in my supposedly “poignant” article, I started wearing a plain black cap around the turn of the millennium when I became concerned about all the hours I was refereeing in the sun and all the growing talk about skin cancer. Yet all the years in the sun took their toll and I wound up with Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Basal Cell Carcinoma on my scalp and had Mohs surgery in 2013. I’ll continue to wear a black cap on sunny and partly sunny days from April to September; otherwise, I would not want to take the chance and still referee on fair weather days. HS and college soccer have been fine with caps for decades, just like other sports. If US Soccer “officially” approved it, US Soccer and Official Sports could make some money with a US Soccer logo on the front of the cap and the Official Sports logo on the back. It will eventually happen. --Randy

  8. Charles Huffer, June 26, 2015 at 2:21 p.m.

    AYSO has taken the following position, according to the Referee FAQ's on their website:
    "Soccer referees have not historically needed to wear hats or sunglasses and AYSO referees are discouraged from doing so. Hats, in some cases, may be desired for sun-protection health reasons. Use of hats on cloudy days should be avoided. Hats should not be worn for night games.

    Hats, if worn, should be solid black or predominately black with white trim, or solid white or predominately white with black trim. Hats should bear no logos or slogans other than AYSO logos (traditional, promotional, Regional or tournament) and AYSO national sponsor logos."

  9. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 2:25 p.m.

    This is a NO BRAINER !!! COVER THE BRAIN !!! Come on USSF, Pull your Head out of where the Sun Don't Shine !!!

  10. Raymond Weigand, June 26, 2015 at 2:26 p.m.

    Huh? AYSO leading the charge, again?

  11. Bill Riviere, June 26, 2015 at 5:32 p.m.

    To set the stage for my comments, I'm in my 20hth year of youth refereeing--both USSF and high school.

    OMG, the officious, by the letter-of-the -law leaders of our referee organization are at it again!! That's an atrocious and ignorant response from Rick Eddy. To all referees, do your own thing!! You do it with calls or no calls, don't you--because you know that it is best for the situation in front of you? This one is a no brainer--wear a cap and don't worry. I do!! And, I wish I'd done it long ago.

    I learned the hard way. I've had surgery and have been warned repeatedly by my dermatologist to consider not refereeing any more--even WITH a cap.

    The problem is all the Laws and interpretations and guidelines are written for the highest levels of soccer and everyone else is expected to toe the line. That's rather dumb, don't you think? The no hat rule is ludicrous and should be changed--at least by state associations, who have the right to make changes for youth soccer. What's wrong with them, too?

    Let's face it, self preservation is every living thing's first instinct, right? So, wear a protective hat, cover your face with at least SPF 45 zinc oxide and replace it at half time and after every match if you are at a tournament.

    If you get blackballed for doing that, then switch to refereeing basketball and file a lawsuit (I'm NOT a lawyer).

    Our referee association is not with reality, too many times!!

  12. Martha Diop, June 27, 2015 at 3:01 a.m.

    I have just one question. On the field there are 25 actors. Let the 3 ones wear caps, as everyone suggest here as being just common sense? Why should not the remaining 22 actors be protected as well?

  13. Martha Diop, June 27, 2015 at 4:21 a.m.

    Please disregard my question, I just found the answer
    “U.S. Soccer's position on wearing caps is players are not allowed to wear caps. Have you ever seen a player at the international or professional level [wear a cap]? I never have.”

  14. Daniel Clifton, June 27, 2015 at 1:32 p.m.

    I cannot believe they don't allow hats. I was a referee a number of years ago. I live in Charlotte, NC and I had to cover my bald pate. I didn't find the black hats of much help because they are so hot. I used to wear a plain white hat now and then and no one complained.

  15. Kent James, June 28, 2015 at 9:43 a.m.

    Yes, common sense (and science) should prevail over fashion. Hats should be allowed (as they are in college and HS). Especially during tournaments, when refs may be doing games for many hours a day. And Georges is right; under some circumstances, long pants should be allowed as well (at least for ARs). Nothing like being an AR in late November when it's 33 degrees and raining, and the game is lopsided so you stand at midfield for 45 minutes as the weaker team fails to get the ball across midfield. At least CRs can run a bit more if they get cold. Physical discomfort hurts the ability to call the fouls properly, and reasonable accommodations should be made.

  16. jim Cross, June 29, 2015 at 10:23 a.m.

    Now is the time for all good American soccer leaders to say "screw FIFA", and start looking after our own. Because FIFA sure isn't.

  17. Wayne Root, June 29, 2015 at 2:53 p.m.

    Excellent article. I just had two basal cell carcinoma (8th and9th overall) removed from my scalp in December. Wear a hat!

  18. Rick Estupinan, June 29, 2015 at 7:40 p.m.

    Sorry Mike!

    Ricardo Estupinan
    4:38 PM (0 minutes ago)

    to Mike
    Okay , but ... I think I have read worst comments than the one you read . Hum...Did I say that?any way this man must try giving a better response than the one he gave you ?


    Click here to

  19. Chester Grant, June 30, 2015 at 6:08 a.m.

    I gave up refereeing because of the sun exposure risk.
    I had a series of melanoma.......

  20. Doug Andreassen, July 1, 2015 at 3:22 p.m.

    The lack of flexibility by the Referee associations is affecting the game in adverse ways. So many gray areas resulting around these health issues that it makes sense to deviate when life long issues start occurring..ie..concussions.

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