Roger Pusey is a business writer for the Deseret News. But his first love is sports. For years he was a top-notch local player. Now he's a top-notch referee and umpire. He's also a member of the Utah USSSA Softball Hall of Fame.
Lately, however, Roger's been finding the fun going out of the games. More than ever players are turning on officials - with both words and fists. Roger often fears for his health - mental and otherwise.So, since I figure Roger has something important to say and is good at saying it, I turn my column over to him today so he can talk about this latest craze in local sports: referee bashing - both verbal and physical.
By Roger Pusey
For 16 years I have shrugged off verbal threats, filthy language and claims I was not a member of the human race that came my way while I refereed basketball games and umpired softball games.
But on March 31 I finally said, "Enough's enough."
That night I was hit in the side of the face with a basketball following a Salt Lake County-sponsored basketball game at Kearns Junior High School. I was leaning against the scorer's table watching teams warm up for the following game when I got blasted.
Neither my partner nor I had called a technical foul on the man. My only words to him during the game were that I didn't like his smart-mouth remarks and it would be in his best interest to keep quiet for the remainder of the game.
I got my glasses back on my head in time to see the culprit ordered out of the gym by the scorekeeper and told not to come back to the league. County people suspended him permanently. That's pretty hard punishment for someone who obviously likes to play basketball.
But I'd had my fill. It was time to take a stand against this sort of activity. I called the sheriff's office, obtained a police report and submitted the facts to the Salt Lake County attorney's office. The prosecutor was sympathetic to the situation and agreed to file charges.
After nearly five months the defendant entered a guilty plea and admitted he had a problem with his temper. His temper got him 30 days in jail (suspended), a $100 fine, $85 in court costs, $75 to reimburse the Legal Defender's Fund and he was ordered to attend a temper-counseling session that would cost $100. A total of $360.
Since then, five other players have assaulted referees either by throwing a ball at them, punching them or slapping them with an open hand. Two of the officials are pursuing criminal charges against the players.
Because these two officials required medical treatment, restitution could be ordered by a judge and the amount of money they are required to pay could be much more than the $360 assessed to the player who hit me.
As an officer of the Salt Lake Official's Association - the group that contracts with Salt Lake County, Murray City, Salt Lake City and youth groups to provide basketball officials - I took the course of action I did on behalf of the entire association. My hope was that further assaults could be eliminated.
When I mention all this to people, they wonder why this this type of thing is happening. Is it because of the NBA presence in the area? Is it a general decline in respect for authority? Is it because parents have taught their children to act this way? Are we being taught that we must win at all cost, even by trying to intimidate the opposition or try to get a break by threatening officials?
My guess is it's a combination of all that and more.
In any event, in my case the justice of peace summed up the situation pretty well when he handed the defendant his penalties and wondered out loud, "All of this over a basketball game?"