Ref Watch: Police sergeant arrested for punching a referee!

Ahead of week 3 of this spring league, our Referee Coordinator's email included this:

"In one game, one of our refs was assaulted by a player after giving that player a red card. ... Another game was abandoned after the coach was red carded."

Such extreme incidents were only two among a hundred games. And only once have I been threatened with a punch and just a few times felt I needed to make a stealthy postgame exit to my car.

But it's not been hard to imagine how an escalation of dissent can lead to the type of awful news we frequently hear about ref abuse. This week, it included the arrest of a Jacksonville, Florida, off-duty police officer who was reported to have punched a ref's face during a youth game, "smacking the whistle from his mouth."

Also this week, The Athletic published, "The only thing that hasn’t happened yet is a referee getting murdered," an in-depth report on grassroots ref abuse in British soccer. 

Christina Unkel, a former FIFA referee and FIFA Panel of Referees member and now Florida State Referee Administrator, tweeted that, "People in power need to help."

The treatment of referees in youth soccer is fueled by the tolerance of disrespect toward officials at the highest levels. The teenage boys who scream in my face when they don't like a call are watching famous players doing the same on TV without even getting a yellow card, as the rulebook mandates. They see it weekly in pro league and Champions League games. They would have seen it at the last World Cup, for which FIFA figured out how to make millimeter offside calls but allowed business as usual for berating refs.

This scene below is just one example of the countless you'll find during soccer TV viewing in which the referee did not caution for dissent.

The "people in power" who can help — who are obligated to help — are FIFA and its rule-making arm IFAB. By neglecting to require referees to enforce the dissent rule (and then supporting them when they do) and/or by not rewriting the rules to address the issue, they've virtually condoned players abusing referees. 

As The Athletic article put it: "High-profile figures escaping any meaningful punishment leads to those incidents becoming normalized" and "have grassroots consequences."

No longer permitting such behavior by players may not extinguish the sideline problems — sports will always bring out the worst in people — but it would help, because on-field belligerence inflames the crowd, whether it be fans, parents or policemen.

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Refereeing in Soccer America ... 

Recent ref, rules and officiating coverage and commentary:

1. Tough but fair? A likely story By Paul Gardner

2Should a 'soft' foul in the penalty area go unpunished? By Ian Plenderleith

3The shameful scenes from Fulham's FA Cup loss to Man United By Mike Woitalla

13 comments about "Ref Watch: Police sergeant arrested for punching a referee!".
  1. Ric Fonseca, March 31, 2023 at 5:32 p.m.

    As a former AR and R, I vividly remember being smacked along side the face by a little old lady - yes, indeed, a "little old lady," MANY YEARS ago, while I was an AR, at an open park, in a nearby city.  Granted it was an open field/park, and I must say it, two diferent and divergent teams from what seemed opposite sides of the world.  As I recall the indicent, it was towards the end of the match, when a defending player misplayed the ball that went out of touch.  As I raised my flag, a big commotion ensued and I was accused of screwing up the play and "miss-signaled", I was immediately surrpounded by both players and others, when all of a sudden, I felt a sharp pain to my left shoulder, turned around and saw a couple of yooung women restraining a "little old lady," who was yelling at me and probablyu questioned my birth, etc.  After the situation was controlled by the Ref and other game officials waiting to take the next match, the lady came to me and profusely apologized as did the two young ladies.  The point t all of this?
    Well, as the author mentions above, IMHO, it is FIFA  and the IB that is obviously oblivious to the incessant challenging/dissenting of an official's call.  It brings back many, but many memories of my time times when I was accosted by not only little old ladies, but the very players.  Most recently this overt dissention has increased to the point that it is just a matter of time before a R or even the ARs are physically attacked, bnut I pray that this does not come to pass, but indeed FIFA and those guys comprising the International Board MUST sct and instruct the game officials to issue yellow cards when and if the surrounding of a game official doesn't cease and players desist.  Meantime, it is incumbent on coaches AND parents to teach their kids, yes, to RESPECT the game officials, because, after all, it is just but a game.   

  2. R2 Dad, March 31, 2023 at 11:10 p.m.

    The laws (from IFAB and FIFA) already exist to card and eject coaches and players. The problem is the leagues, and those leagues are run by coaches. When leagues want to only give a 1 game suspension to coaches and players for red card events, the referees are being set up to fail. Everyone is saying, "Look over here at FIFA and IFAB, these big faceless entities, THEY are the real villians." That's a con, a mis-direction. It's coaches and the leagues who wont punish them who are ruining the beautiful game. I recently quit refereeing after 13 years, because i could no longer accept coach abuse and continue to suck it up. I'm tired of being bigger than these petulant loser coaches, who need a good ass-kicking. So I quit this spring. What was the trigger? Was it low pay, long drives, bad conditions? No. It was a coach about my age (who incidentally was on the same league board of directors for a short time that I was on). He had a go at me after the final whistle after a match last fall; berating me, whining about how I was wrong and didn't know the LOTG. The very next week i pull up to a different pitch before game-time, getting ready with my ARs. As the previous game finishes up, who do I see screaming at the referees? The very same coach, who was verbally abusing a youth referee for some perceived mistake. I wanted to club that bastard for intentionally ruining an amateur youth match and attacking the youth referees who had to sit and remain composed. You win, asshole coaches of America, along with the leagues that refuse to discipline them. 

  3. Barry Ulrich, April 1, 2023 at 9:57 a.m.

    Dissent is already part of TLOG.  All the ref has to do is begin carding those who crowd around and bump into him.  But the ref has to develop some cojones to stifle all the negative actions around him/her.

  4. Ric Fonseca replied, April 1, 2023 at 2:43 p.m.

    To Barry Ulrich:  Amigo, it is so easier said than done!!!

  5. Mike Lynch, April 1, 2023 at 12:17 p.m.

    REGARDLESS OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES (score, ref performance, team performance, playing time, etc), show up for your "Spotlight Moment" on gameday.  Referees/League Officials, make the calls and follow through on consequences. Coaches, lead by positive, sporting example, exhibit zero dissent. Players, follow the lead of your coaches. Parents, enjoy the chance for your child to participate in TEAM sports ( which is huge).

    -adopted from Bruce Brown's "Parent's Role in Athletics"

  6. Barry Ulrich, April 1, 2023 at 3:20 p.m.

    Ric: pulling cards out of your pocket is so much easier than growing cojones.  When I refereed HS I advised the captains that their must mates immediately give 10 yards on DFKs or there would be a carding.  Worked for me. Disgusting to see lack of control by professional refs.

  7. Kent James replied, April 2, 2023 at 2 a.m.

    Completely agree about the use of cards on the failure to retreat 10 yds; an absolutely simple problem to solve, and a rule that is completely disregarded at the professional level (to the detriment of the game, unless you think the game is improved by ceremonial free kicks instead of kicks taken quickly).  I think the failure to enforce such an obvious rule tends to undermine the need to adhere to them.  If professional refs started carding players who set up less than 5 yds from the ball on a free kick, it would stop.  And the games would be improved.

  8. George Gorecki, April 1, 2023 at 4:22 p.m.

    A referee in Michigan was murdered in 2014.

  9. Kent James, April 2, 2023 at 2:17 a.m.

    As a player, I always thought refs that carded anybody who expressed any dissent were "by the book" refs (not a compliment) and were carding people because they were too weak to handle some criticism.  When I began reffing, I was determined not to be like that; I was going to card fouls that mattered (physical or cynical fouls).  But I realized that when people dissent, it can get out of hand, and then people (on both teams) focus on the reffing instead of playing the game.  So I learned that it's best to nip that in the bud, for the sake of the game.  

    I was raised as one of four boys, so I was used to criticsm, and the only time dissent hurts me is if they're right (and then it's not what they say, but the fact that I screwed something up that bothers me).  

    I have two regrets in my 2 decades of reffing; I reffed a youth tournament and a parent was yelling at his own kid.  I was a new ref, and wasn't comfortable dealing with parents; had he been yelling at kids on the other team, I probably would have made him leave. In retrospect, I could have done that kid (and maybe even the parent) a great favor by throwing him out.  Along those lines, I once did a college game where I ejected the head coach.  At the kickoff, HIS players thanked me....

    My other regret was that I didn't eject a college coach who was infamous for berating most refs that did his games.  He was otherwise a good coach, usually had good teams, and the games were always intense and competitive.  He was a nice guy off the field (and actually worked with my mother).  My mother came to the game (she had never seen me referee and the college was in her town) and she was appalled at his behavior.  My thought (at the time) was that he certainly wasn't going to affect me, regardless of what he said, so I was going to ignore him (and I generally did).  But he was incredibly disrespectful.  As a chapter, we should have done more to reign him in, because he was really out of control.  And his comments certainly raised the temperature of these games and made them harder to control.  

    So for the good of the game, refs need to be tougher and the authorities need to back them up. But it's a tough problem.

  10. James Madison, April 3, 2023 at 12:20 a.m.

    Based on the reports I see in Referee magazine, it is not the failure to issue cautions and send-offs that result in assaults on officials, but the assaults as often as not, by a player who has been disciplined or, in the case of youth soccer, by the coach or parent of a player who has been disciplined.

    In some instances, this type of conduct results in prosecution pursant to statutes in an increasing number of states that provide soecifically for prosecution in cases of assaults on sports officials.

    In other instances, this type of conduct results in suits for damages against the player, coach, or other individual involved and the club on the well-established legal theory of the parent organization being resposible for the conduct of its members.

  11. humble 1, April 3, 2023 at 1:57 p.m.

    I was just this past weekend at the final of a U15 tournament.  These were among the top U15 players and coaches in the country.  A dangerous foul is made, slide tackle, player writhes on ground rolling over and over.  I did not see tackle clearly so not certain about intent whatever, but for sure player showing pain.  This U15 mind you.  It happens, players run up to ref, he's getting out the card, slowly, player still writhing on the ground, literally, SCREAMING.  Card is RED!  Within thirty seconds of RED card - something is said that irritates the injured player - he leaps to his feet - CLEARLY UNINJURED AND HAVING FAKED.  This all unwinds and the game goes on - team one player down has been punished.  BUT NOTHING IS EVER DONE TO THE FAKER.  This is the problem my friends.  This cheating is going unaddressed in amatuer and pro soccer.  Why, that's another thread - but - it leads to the above.  For referees of amatuer games - it should 100% NOT BE TOLERATED.  Cheating by players is the cancer in the game.  Stop it.  You stop most of the problems.

  12. Ric Fonseca, April 3, 2023 at 3:27 p.m.

    I failed to also say that not only do the game officials must "develop some cojones..." but those above them must aldo.  Putting it blunty, the cojones MUST come/develop from way above and that is FIFA & IFAB.  And here is yet another little historical story I will share:  Some years ago when I convinced my college administrators and AD to introduce soccer, part of my plan was to coach the team - gathered from scratch, plus ensure the field was properly lined, order uniforms and equipment for the realtively short season.  The season was rather short, playing a home and home series, leaving me with around 24 student athletes after the competition was over, that is what to do with six weeks left in the semester? 
    Well, pilgrims givem that the student-athletes completed the season of competition, I decided to require they attend some sports-related lectures, my plan was to introduced them to the Laws of the Game.  But much to my surprise and dismay, and even after completing the competition, I was truly dismayed and dissilussioned with them, that is their complete ignorance of the LoG, especially since the average age of the "student athletes" at my Community College was a solid 20, and even one player asked why they had to attend a two-hour lecture on the LoG?!!!  
    Suffice to say that my response to them was that in order to be a well rounded players, they should know at least, the basics of the LoG! Lastly, out of the team of student-athletes, who received two units of academic credit from the PE/Kinesiology Department, two went on to become certified game officials, starting at the local high schools, and one went on to officiate the local adult leagues.  The others?  Transferred out and some went into teaching and other careers. 

  13. humble 1 replied, April 4, 2023 at 1:58 p.m.

    great anecdote.  Thanks.

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