Protecting sports officials, restoring respect intent of bill

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Legislation proposed for the 2020 General Assembly has the goal of restoring respect to the sidelines and endure the safety of sports officials at athletic contests.

The “Good Sport Bill,” sponsored by Rep. Randy Bridges, R-Paducah, would make intimidating sports officials a Class A Misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, while physical assault would be a Class D Felony, with a one to five year prison term, upon conviction.

The bill is cosponsored by Bridges and Rep. Brandon Reed, R-Hodgenville and House Majority Whip Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown.

“Over the last several years, the environment surrounding youth sports has grown more and more aggressive,” Bridges said during a Frankfort press conference. “Even to the point of producing violent actions. This has brought about a shortage of athletes and athletic officials.”

Bridges says it all came to a head in April, when one of his McCracken County constituents, Kenny Culp, was assaulted while refereeing a local youth basketball tournament.

“The discussions I’ve had with local law enforcement, sports officials and KHSAA, have led me to realize that more needs to be done.”

He quoted a survey by the National Association of Sports Officials, which found, “47 percent of male officials and 44 percent of female officials have said they felt unsafe or feared for their safety, due to the behavior of some administrators, coaches, players and mostly from spectators.”

Culp told reporters he was sucker-punched near the end of the April game by the coach of a team from Michigan. “I had a broken collarbone, brain bleed and a broken sinus cavity.”

Culp says the man returned to face a misdemeanor assault charge but was arrested again when it was upgraded to a felony due to the extent of his injuries.

He says the man’s attorney thought this is too much time for the crime, “but we think differently. We offered him six years, although he could get out in two years and he turned that down. So, he’ll go before a jury and could get up to 10 years.”

Butch Cope, associate director of the Kentucky High School Athletics Association, said he is appreciative of the effort, since the number of sports officials across the country is dropping.

“We currently license around 3,900 officials a year, and we’re seeing a drop of about a hundred a year,” said Cope. “The number one reason we’re hearing is the treatment the officials are getting. Not only from fans, but coaches and players as well.”

Cope warned of a possible outcome if the trend continues. “We could get to a point where we absolutely have to start p-laying fewer games, because we don’t have the number of officials we need.”

Cope added, the problem of abusing officials is widespread. “I think you see the same actions up in the stands at a soccer match, a baseball game, even at a volleyball match, where they’re yelling at the line judges. Often those line judges are members of the Freshman or JV team and are just helping out. So, it’s in all sports.”

The 2020 General Assembly convenes Jan. 7.

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