Archive for May, 2013


Let me see if I understand this.

The Rutgers athletic program was already national disgraced when videos surfaced of their men’s basketball coach, Mike Rice, verbally berating, and at times, throwing basketball players at his players.

Then, in an effort to patch up its reputation, the newly minted Big 10 university hired one of its favorite sons, long-time NBA coach Eddie Jordan – and a proud graduate of Rutgers.

Except that no one asked Eddie if he really graduated. Yes, he was a star basketball player at Rutgers, but no, he didn’t graduate. And no one from Rutgers’ administration or p.r. department ever checked. How embarrassing.

And now, the university, still reeling from these two glaring errors in judgment, go through dozens and dozens of resumes to find who they feel is the perfect individual to get Rutgers athletics cleaned up. They hire Julie Hermann with an annual salary of $450,000.

But the problem is that Julie Hermann seems to be cut from the same cloth as Mike Rice in terms of abusing college student-athletes, and even worse, she’s been fully involved with not one, but two lawsuits involving coaches on her staff.

So…is she really the best candidate Rutgers could find? That is, there’s no one else out there who doesn’t know how to coach athletes in a positive way, or how to avoid lawsuits? I mean, how hard did Rutgers look? How much due diligence did anyone at Rutgers do in terms of legally checking on Ms. Hermann?

Especially in the horror show that Rutgers had just experienced, you would have thought that someone – maybe Rutgers’ president Dr. Barchi – would have done a full and complete investigation on Ms. Hermann and her background – just to avoid this potential nightmare.

But no, they didn’t. Instead, a number of her former volleyball players have come forth and have asserted that Hermann referred to her players, on occasion, as “whores, alcoholics, and learning disabled.”

I could be wrong, but I have to tell you – I don’t know of many situations in which those kinds of comments would actually be effective in motivating players.

The truth is, the more I learn about Julie Hermann, the less I like about her and the way she coached her players. Or  how she treated assistant coaches.

Rutgers says that they have no plans to fire her, and that they plan to stand by her. I guess they have no choice; after all, if they fire her, they will have to pay her big bucks as a buyout.

But holy smokes…when does this nightmare end? And as Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal wrote today, maybe this is the best Rutgers could do. Maybe, says Gay, the college world is full of Julie Hermann’s. Isn’t that a scary thought?

ABUSIVE COACHES: Rutgers Stubs Its Toe…Yet Again!

We all agree that Rutgers was in quite a mess of its own making when former men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was shown repeatedly on videotape berating and physically abusing his players.  It took some time, but finally the college administration did the right thing and fired him. Oops!

And in its haste to replace Rice with former Rutgers’ star, Eddie Jordan, they put out a press release that Jordan was a graduate of the school. Well, turns out that Jordan certainly played at Rutgers, but he never really graduated. Oops!

And now, a few weeks ago, the school announced with great fanfare that their new AD, Julie Hermann, had been lured away from the Univ. of Louisville. She is going to be paid $450,000 a year to head up Rutgers athletics.

But then, something disturbing happened. A number of Coach Hermann’s former volleyball players at Tennessee came forth with all kinds of accusations of her being verbally abusive – so much so that some of her former players had to seek counseling to undo the damage. There was a litany of accusations, e.g. the coach allegedly calling her players fat, whores,humiliating them in various ways, and so on. Again, these are allegations, but the fact that so many of her former players came forth makes one really wonder just what kind of coach she was, and more importantly, whether her own coaching style is comparable to that of Coach Rice.

This story just broke over the last 24 hours, so it is too soon to know what will happen next. But it does stand to reason that in this day and age of google, a 3-minute background check online might have raised some of these concerns. Instead, Rutgers once again finds itself on the defensive, trying to backpedal on a key hire = a hire that they couldn’t afford to screw up on. Oops!

LEGAL CONCERNS: Try to Maintain a Reasonable Perspective on Criminal Assaults


More Thoughts About the Role of Criminal Prosecutions in Preventing Assaults on Youth Sports Officials

By Doug Abrams

 After the recent fatal assault on youth soccer referee Ricardo Portillo in suburban Salt Lake City, last week’s column explained why legislation to criminalize assaults on sports officials remains unnecessary and potentially counter-productive. In every state, a wide array of general-application statutes already criminalizes assaults on any victim, including a sports official. The most effective approach is to enforce these general-application statutes in appropriate cases, and not to enact new statutes whose provisions would tend to duplicate existing law.

To help explain this conclusion, two themes mentioned in last week’s column deserve greater amplification here. First, I wrote that assaults on sports officials sometimes go unprosecuted because law enforcement authorities too often exercise discretion not to arrest, indict or prosecute an assailant.  Second, I suggested that more robust enforcement of criminal laws would likely deter some future assaults on officials. Here I discuss not only the likely reasons for this exercise of discretion, but also the criminal law’s potential for deterrence. 

To maintain proper perspective about antidotes to violence in youth sports, this column concludes with a timely reminder that criminal prosecution should be the last resort, not the first.  The most promising strategy for managing sporadic violence should be education and instruction conducted by youth leagues and interscholastic sports programs, prevention efforts that continue to show much success.  

Reluctance to Enforce

The April 27 assault on Mr. Portillo was unusual because the perpetrator was a player, and not an adult such as a parent or coach. Media reports suggest that nearly all assaults on referees and other officials are committed by adults. 

Prosecutors may resist indicting offending parents or coaches, or may negotiate plea bargains, because winning a conviction can be difficult.  Except in rare instances when violence is caught on video, the parent or coach need only claim “self-defense” (“The ref pushed me first”) or provocation (“The ref cussed at me first”) and the case may collapse. The offending adult may have eyewitness friends and allies willing to lie to law enforcement and, if necessary, commit perjury on the witness stand. The case can end as a stalemated “he said-she said.”

Busy prosecutors also sense that adults charged with youth sports violence tend to make sympathetic defendants because they are usually first-time offenders who hold regular employment.  Aside from their inability sometimes to control themselves in games, they are the kind of people we would be pleased to have as next-door neighbors. Except perhaps where the injury is particularly serious, juries can be sympathetic to adults with clean records who appear contrite for an assault committed in the heat of the moment to defend the perceived interests of their children. And juries often respond to pleas that if the parent or coach lands in prison even briefly, the real loser would be the innocent child at home.

Even when prosecutors do secure a conviction or guilty plea, judges may impose only probation, community service, or some similar sentence that appears like a slap on the wrists. Without a prior criminal record, the defendant may present little likelihood of being a future threat to the community, and not the kind of violent criminal we tend to worry about most.

None of these reasons offers a suitable excuse for under-enforcement or leniency because prosecutors can prevail, and judges can impose meaningful sentences. When prosecutors believe in good faith that proof would support a conviction, they signal social disapproval as much by the charge as by the outcome.


Publicity about prosecutions for assaults on sports officials would likely deter some parents and coaches — and perhaps many — from similar behavior.  In general, the likelihood of deterrence depends on two factors, the nature of the offense and the nature of the offender.

The nature of the offense, by itself, does not hold particular promise in youth leagues because publicized prosecutions are more likely to deter future premeditated crimes than future impulsive crimes of passion. Most assaults on sports officials fall into the second category because I have never heard of a parent or coach who woke up in the morning plotting to attack an official later that day. (Indeed, this lack of premeditation is reportedly what led the Salt Lake City prosecutor to charge Mr. Portillo’s assailant with homicide by assault rather than with murder or manslaughter.)  We cannot count on publicity about criminal prosecutions to deter the sort of unplanned, impulsive behavior that tends to characterize youth sports assaults.

The nature of the offender, however, holds more promise in youth leagues because prosecutions are more likely to deter people who think rationally than people who chronically lack self-control. Despite the usually impulsive nature of attacks on youth sports officials, I suspect that in places where prosecution is a real possibility, publicity does indeed encourage greater self-control in some parents and coaches. 

In youth sports, assaultive adults are normally family people who are trying to earn a living and raise their children, who make good neighbors until the game starts, and who value their jobs and their places in the community. They are not career criminals, and the youth league assault is typically their first brush with the law. Most of all, parents and coaches sense the embarrassment that indictment, prosecution and sentencing would cause them and their families. Word gets around.

Plan A: Adult Education in Youth Sports

As we discuss the criminal process after the Utah homicide, we should not lose perspective.  In youth sports as in other areas of American life, prevention efforts should be the primary anti-violence strategy. Criminal prosecution should be the last resort, reserved for the relatively few persons whose sporadic violence resists efforts to maintain basic standards of civility before anyone strikes a blow. Even with its potential to deter some future acts of violence, prosecution demonstrates breakdown and failure. Someone has already been victimized, and the families of the victim and the perpetrator may suffer life-changing dislocation from legal proceedings.  

With pre-season parents meetings and generally effective printed materials, youth sports governing bodies and interscholastic sports leagues seek to prevent violence by emphasizing sportsmanship and mutual respect among competitors and their families.  From my years of coaching, I sense that these constructive educational initiatives can create local sports cultures that help insure that outbursts of violence against officials and others remain the exception rather than the rule. Most youth sports parents know right from wrong, and most tend toward civility when leagues, teams, and other parents and coaches lead the way.

INNOVATIONS IN SPORTS: SUNY Youth Sports Institute Making A Difference

I can’t remember how many years I’ve been suggesting that youth coaches at all levels — including rec programs and travel teams — undergo some sort of training before they work with kids.

Problem is, there have been preciouse few such programs around. And of the ones that do exist, they tend to have a  “cookie-cutter, one size fits all” approach that are taught by young people in their 20s. That’s why Tim Donovan’s State University of New York (SUNY) Youth Sports Institute coaching programs are so refreshing and, quite understandably, having a tremendous impact.

Tim tells me that his programs have been around for about five years, but in that short time, he and his staff have given thousands of programs to coaches in a variety of sports. He tackles the basic issues that most volunteer coaches usually encounter, e.g. how to deal with angry parents, how to dole out equal playing time, how to enforce sportsmanship, and so on.

Each program runs about 3 hours in length, and costs $25 per person. And in the communities where these programs are run, they have now become mandatory for anyone who wants to coach.

What’s the only drawback? Well, right now, these programs are restricted to only the state of New York, but the good news is Tim tells me that there’s a real desire to spread the word to the other 49 states. For more information, go to

LEGAL CONCERNS: Why New Laws Regarding Sports Violence Aren’t Necessary


Why Statutes Criminalizing Assaults on Sports Officials

Are Still a Bad Idea

By Doug Abrams


Tragedy struck in suburban Salt Lake City, Utah on April 27.  Forty-six-year-old youth soccer referee Ricardo Portillo took a single punch to the head from a 17-year-old goalkeeper who was angered about being shown a yellow card (a warning) for shoving an opponent as the teams jockeyed for position after a corner kick in a recreation-league game.  The veteran referee lingered in a coma with swelling of the brain for nearly a week before family members removed life support and donated his organs.

The youth league goalie stands charged with homicide by assault, a third-degree felony that carries a prison term of two to five years. The Salt Lake County district attorney says that he will seek to prosecute the teen as an adult in criminal court, where he could receive a longer sentence than would be possible in juvenile court.

Ricardo Portillo’s death has produced renewed calls for legislation to criminalize assaults on sports officials. According to the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), 22 states have already enacted such legislation. Two years ago, in my first column on Rick Wolff’s blog, I explained why such legislation is both unnecessary and potentially counter-productive. I hope that Mr. Portillo’s assailant gets everything that is coming to him, but I repeat the explanation here because the events now unfolding in Utah (which is not one of the 22 states) confirm what I wrote then. The youth soccer assailant faces the full force of the law under generally applicable criminal statutes, and this is the way it should be.

Why New Criminal Statutes Are Unnecessary

New statutes criminalizing assaults on sports officials are unnecessary because in every state, a wide array of general-application criminal statutes already punish acts of violence against “another person” or “any person,” including a sports official.  These statutes are sufficient to reach almost any assault that would target a sports official, and they provide a range of penalties that would assure that the punishment fits the crime following conviction or a guilty plea.  In most of the 22 states that have enacted legislation specifically criminalizing assaults on sports officials, the legislation does not increase the penalty range beyond what the law already provides.

The Utah goalkeeper has been charged under a general-application statute.  Utah’s Criminal Code provides: “A person commits homicide by assault if, under circumstances not amounting to aggravated murder, murder, or manslaughter, a person causes the death of another while intentionally or knowingly attempting, with unlawful force or violence, to do bodily injury to another.”  “Another” means any victim, including a sports official.

Salt Lake County prosecutors reportedly believe that the facts would not support a charge more serious than homicide by assault in Mr. Portillo’s case, but Utah’s Criminal Code also includes a wide range of other general-application statutes that would apply where the victim is a sports official.  From relatively less serious crimes to relatively more serious ones, these statutes criminalize harassment (a class B misdemeanor); threat of violence (a class B misdemeanor); assault (a class A or class B misdemeanor); stalking (a class A misdemeanor or third degree felony); aggravated assault (a third degree or second degree felony); manslaughter (a second degree felony); and murder (a first degree felony).

Why New Criminal Statutes are Potentially Counter-Productive

The problem is not that most states lack criminal statutes specifically targeting violence against sports officials.  The problem is that police, prosecutors and courts tend not to arrest, indict, or impose meaningful punishment on many assailants under general-application statutes already on the books in every state.  Existing criminal statutes already protect sports officials, provided only that authorities summon the will to enforce them more often against assailants who remain unmoved by their sports programs’ efforts to educate about the metes and bounds of civil conduct.

The root cause of the problem is tepid enforcement, not insufficient laws.  Statutes aimed specifically at criminal violence against sports officials are potentially counter-productive because enacting yet more rarely-applied statutes may produce false confidence that we have taken meaningful measures. A criminal statute, however, remedies no problem and protects no one unless police, prosecutors and judges actually enforce its terms in appropriate cases.

The Magnitude of the Danger

Counseling against new legislation does not belittle the seriousness of violence against sports officials.  According to the NASO, last month’s Utah soccer case is only the second known homicide against a youth sports official arising from the conduct of a game.  Non-homicidal assaults against youth league referees and umpires do not happen often, but they do happen. And they seemingly happen more often these days as more and more families skid toward the line between healthy partisanship and rabid violence in the youth sports pressure cooker.  Ricardo Portillo’s oldest daughter says that her father had suffered rib and leg fractures in two prior on-field attacks, but that he loved soccer and refused his family’s entreaties to stop officiating. 

Press reports of so-called “referee rage” appear regularly, but youth sports observers know that the situation is even more serious than the headlines would suggest because many incidents go unreported in the media unless someone is arrested or seriously injured. During and after games, youth sports officials have been punched, kicked, shoved, slapped, choked, head-butted, spat on and stalked.  Parents and coaches have spewn obscenities, made officials run a gauntlet to leave the field, followed officials to their cars, destroyed their property and leveled threats against them and their families. 

The risk of physical injury has become serious enough that some youth league officials have begun carrying cell phones on the field for quick calls to the police.  One official says that he arrives early to his assigned games so he can park close to the exit and tell security guards in advance the section of the field he will leave from; then he removes his whistle immediately when the game ends so no irate parent or coach can grab it and try to choke him.  NASO now offers insurance to youth league officials for “injuries suffered when an official is the victim of an assault and/or battery by a spectator, fan or participant.” Officials’ training classes in various sports typically include instruction about how to manage physically or verbally abusive confrontations.

Many youth sports programs lack qualified referees and umpires because they cannot find enough adults willing to endure abuse from parents and coaches.   As one NASO official explained, “[i]t’s not worth risking your life for $50 a game.”  With the supply of adult officials dwindling, some programs have enlisted teenagers, many of whom quit once they or their parents begin fearing for their safety and sensibilities. 

In fact, teenage officials often bear the brunt when parents and coaches see them as easy targets and think they can get away with verbal or physical abuse. In perhaps the latest nationally reported assault on a youth sports official, a 43-year-old manager of a 10-12-year-old New Jersey Little League team was charged earlier this month with two counts of assault for slapping a 17-year-old umpire who had ejected him from a game.  

Officials deserve the same assurance of personal safety from unlawful violence that every other youth sports participant deserves. It should not take a homicide before the criminal justice system responds in appropriate cases.  Risks to officials’ personal safety have grown sufficiently serious that part of the response to violence must lie in criminal prosecution.  The preferred prosecutorial tools are existing general-application statutes, and not new statutes that, specific to officials, might deflect attention from the real problem and contribute relatively little to meaningful solutions. 


[Sources: Sam Borden, A Whistle, a Punch, and a Soccer Referee Is Dead, N.Y. Times, May 7, 2013; Utah Criminal Code § 76-5-209; National Association of Sports Officials, Legislation Affecting Sports Officials,; NASO, State Legislation Aimed at Protecting Sports Officials from Assaults,; Stephanie Loder, Berkeley Little League Manager Charged With Hitting Teen Umpire, Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, May 2, 2013; Douglas E. Abrams, The Challenge Facing Parents and Coaches in Youth Sports: Assuring Children Fun and Equal Opportunity, Villanova Sports & Entertainment Law Journal, vol. 8, p. 253 (2002)]

LEGAL CONCERNS: When Kids Kill Refs….

It’s still hard to believe that a 17-year-old soccer goalie – apparently upset by being tagged with a yellow card in a soccer match – was so incensed that he went up to the unsuspecting ref and punched him hard enough in the head to kill him.

But of course, that’s exactly what happened in Utah a couple of weeks ago. The boy is now facing some serious charges.

And then a few weeks earlier, in a soccer match in the Netherland, a group of 16-and 17-year old players, angry with an offside call during the match, waited until the game was over, and then beat and kicked the ref until he died. Those kids are now waiting to go on trial.

For years, we have seen angry parents and out-of-control coaches attack and assault refs, umpires, and officials – in effect, grown-ups being violent. But now we’re seeing kids take out their frustrations in a physical manner, and to me, that’s a new and most alarming trend.

Lots of callers on the show this AM had excellent points about this trend. Most pointed out that kids today are overly coddled by Moms and Dads who do their best not to have their kids deal with the inevitable frustrations and disappointments that come in sports. As a result, when kids run into unexpected setbacks, kids look to the sidelines for direction, only to see crazed parents screaming and nutty coaches doing the same. It doesn’t take much for a kid to pick up on those cues, and find themselves on the attack.

Some suggestions: Moms and Dads and Coaches, take the time to explain to kids how to behave when it comes to failure and frustration. Let them know that all sporting competitions have both winners and losers, and knowing to cope with losing is very, very tough. Remind them that the other team wants just as desperately to win, and that sometimes, on that given day, the other team will actually play better.

In addition, don’t try so hard to protect your kids from the ups-and-downs of sports. The sooner they understand that losing is just as common as winning, they will be on their way to becoming better athletes. And better citizens.

LEGAL CONCERNS: Does the Steubenville HS Football Coach Have Any Culpability in this Mess?




 What Steubenville Tells Us About Coaches’ Legal Obligations

to Report Rape and Other Child Abuse 

By Doug Abrams


The nation took notice on Sunday morning, March 17, when juvenile court judge Thomas Lipps found two Steubenville, Ohio high school football stars delinquent for digitally raping a drunk, and nearly unconscious, 16-year-old girl during a night of alcohol-drenched partying following a pre-season scrimmage last August 11. Without intervening or seeking outside help, a few dozen students watched or cheered as boys photographed the victim, stripped off her clothing, and belittled her as she was carried from party to party. 

 The evidence, which Judge Lipps described as “profane and ugly,” was not confined to the two stars.  Allegations also surfaced that a local jock-ocracy placed football players on a pedestal, protected by a code of silence that enabled adolescent “rape crews” to prowl without concern for personal consequences or the constraints of common decency. Speaking about the football team, one local resident told the New York Times that “[t]he players are considered heroes, and that’s pretty pathetic, because they’ve been able to get away with things for years because of it.  Everyone just looks the other way.” 

 To “bring finality so the community feels that justice has been done,” state attorney general Mike DeWine has convened a grand jury to consider whether to indict other persons for their roles before, during or after the August 11 rapes.  Among the subjects of public attention is Reno Saccoccia, Steubenville High’s head football coach, who may have committed a crime by allegedly failing to report the incidents immediately to authorities.

 This column concerns the Steubenville’s school board.  Late last month, without waiting for the grand jury to conclude its deliberations, the board irresponsibly renewed the coach’s administrative contract for two years.  (The action does not affect his five-year coaching contract, which still has two more years to run.) Despite the school superintendent’s statement to the contrary, the contract renewal sent a message widely perceived as a vote of confidence in the longtime coach.  During his 30-year tenure, his “Big Red” teams have brought high school football glory to the struggling Rust Belt town, but the board exercised bad judgment by acting in the face of evidence that he may have participated in an unlawful cover-up. 

Mandatory Abuse Reporting

 Like every other state, Ohio creates a class of “mandatory reporters,” persons who must immediately inform authorities about known or suspected acts of physical, sexual or emotional child abuse perpetrated by an adult or a minor.  This class includes a “school teacher; school employee [or] school authority.”  As the football coach and a Steubenville school district administrator, Mr. Saccoccia would seem to qualify. 

 Teachers and school administrators normally receive training and instruction about their obligations under state abuse reporting laws.  Ohio law requires an immediate report from a mandatory reporter “who is acting in an official or professional capacity and knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect based on facts that would cause a reasonable person in a similar position to suspect, that a child under eighteen years of age . . . has suffered or faces a threat of suffering any physical or mental wound, injury, disability, or condition of a nature that reasonable indicates abuse or neglect. . . .” 

Failure to file a mandatory report is a fourth-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail. 


“Delete It”

 Evidence potentially damaging to Coach Reno Saccoccia emerged during the Mays-Richmond delinquency hearing.  On August 13, two days after the raucous parties, quarterback Mays texted a friend whose 12-minute video of the incidents would soon go viral.  Mays instructed the friend to “[d]elete that off YouTube.  Coach Sac knows about it.  Seriously delete it.”  Also that day, Mays reportedly texted the victim to say that “Reno just called my house and said I raped you.”  

 The next day, the overconfident Mays texted a friend that “I got Reno. He took care of it and sh– ain’t gonna happen, even if they take it to court. Like he was joking about it so I’m not worried.” 

 In yet another text exchange on the fourteenth, Mays was asked, “What did Reno say to you?”  The quarterback replied, “Nothing really. We have to stay in for a week.  Next time any of us do anything we are suspended from games for a month.  But I feel like he took care of it for us.”  Saccoccia gave character testimony for the two players at the hearing that determined that their case would proceed in juvenile court rather than criminal court, and he evidently did not discipline the pair until eight games into the 10-game regular season.


The School Board’s Bad Judgment

 The coach has said little publicly about the August party but reportedly denies that he knew about the rapes before charges were brought against the two players.  According to the New York Times, he grew heated in November at a reporter who pressed him about why he did not immediately discipline the pair; the coach reportedly responded with expletives and “You made me mad now.  You’re going to get yours. And if you don’t get yours, somebody close to you will.”

 If the grand jury indicts Saccoccia based on the quarterback’s text messages and possibly other evidence, the indictment would mean that the prosecutor established “probable cause.”  Probable cause exists when the grand jury reasonably believes that a particular person committed the crime charged.  The coach would have an opportunity to defend himself and present his side of the story at trial, where the prosecutor could secure a conviction only by proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a burden higher than probable cause. 

“The Boundaries of Socially Appropriate Behavior”

In cases such as the one now unfolding in Steubenville, two vital child-protective purposes underlie the school board’s responsibility to hold coaches, teachers and other school authorities to the mandates of the child abuse reporting laws. 

 For one thing, these laws help protect children from serious maltreatment because a perpetrator unidentified today remains free to inflict future abuse on the same child or on others.  If “rape crews” truly roam Steubenville effectively unrestrained by the law, future youthful victims faced potential danger beginning immediately after the August 11 parties, even before the two football players were charged.

 Aside from child protection, the Supreme Court stressed more than 60 years ago that school boards are charged with “educating the young for citizenship.”  Coaches, teachers and other public school authorities help transmit what Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. called “an early understanding of the relevance of the social compact of respect for the rights of others.” This early understanding depends on mentoring about healthy interpersonal relationships, including how boys and men should treat girls and women. 

 Mentoring takes place both inside and outside the classroom.  “The process of educating our youth for citizenship in public schools,” the Supreme Court explains, “is not confined to books, the curriculum, or civics class; schools must teach by example the shared values of a civilized social order.” “‘[F]undamental values’”, the Court continues, “must . . . take into account consideration of the sensibilities of others” as school officials fulfill their responsibility in “teaching students the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior.” The “basic educational mission” emphasizes teaching the “habits and manners of civility.” 

 Regardless of what the Ohio grand jury decides in the next few weeks, Steubenville’s school board sent the wrong message late last month by appearing to circle the wagons while grand jurors probe potentially wide systemic failures to protect children and transmit fundamental social values.

 (Sources: Julie Macur and Nate Schweber, Rape Case Unfolds On Web and Splits City, N.Y. Times, Dec. 17, 2012, p. D1; Laura Collins, Steubenville Investigators Now Searching the School for Grand Jury Evidence in Rape Case, MailOnline, Apr. 25, 2013; Ohio Revised Code sections 2151.031, 1251.99, 2151.421, 2929.24; Alexander Abad-Santos, Steubenville’s Football Coach Just Got a Two-Year Contract Extension, The Atlantic, Apr. 22, 2013; Douglas E. Abrams, Recognizing the Public Schools’ Authority to Discipline Students’ Off-Campus Cyberbullying of Classmates, 37 New England Journal on Civil and Criminal Confinement (2011)]

DUMB AND DUMBER: Univ of Texas Pitcher Suspended for Providing Urine for Teammate

Listen to this. According to reports in the Austin American-Stateman, Texas Longhorns’ star  pitcher Corey Knebel must have thought he was doing a real favor for a teammate when he volunteered to give his buddy a urine sample for a team-mandated drug test.

Problem was, the borrowed urine from Knebel came back testing positive for Adderall, a commonly prescribed drug for Attention Deficit Disorder. But when the unnamed teammate was quizzed repeatedly as to why he had Adderall in his “urine,” he finally had to confess that it wasn’t really his urine – that it really came from Knebel.

Bottom line? Knebel was suspended for several games for violating team and NCAA rules. No word on the unnamed teammate as to what kind of punishment he received.

LEGAL CONCERNS: 17-Year-old Soccer Player Sucker Punches Ref Who Subsequently Dies

I did my radio show this AM talking with Tony DeLillo, a long-term board member and supervisor of umpires in the Elmsford (NY) LL. Tony spent much of the hour, discussing how he prepares the umps in his league (most of the umps are kids themselves, primarily teenagers), on how to handle unruly adult coaches and parents during games. 

It was a most enlightening conversation, as Tony clearly spends a lot of time and effort in geting these young umps ready to take on the nastiest and pushiest of coaches and parents. But of all the questions I asked Tony, the one I should have asked is this: why, in this day and age where umps, refs, and officials are routinely threatened and often physically assaulted, would anyone volunteer to do this?

That unasked question takes on even greater significance with the news today that a soccer ref in Utah, Ricardo Pontillo, was punched in the head by a disgruntled player, long after the game had ended. Pontillo, in his mid-40s, never saw the punch coming. He crumpled to the ground, began to cough up blood, and was rushed to the hospital. He lapsed into a coma and remained comatose for a week until dying earlier today.

The 17-year-old soccer player’s name has not been released due to his age, but you can only imagine the outrage from this kind of senseless act. Yes, sports can be frustrating, and yes, it can bring stringing disappointment, but of course, there is no reason in the world for an athlete to retaliate so violently againt a ref.

CBS Evening News immediately tracked me down after my show, and asked me for my reaction. As may of you know, I have always felt that all sports parents and youth coaches should undergo mandatory training each season to talk about behavior and anger management issues.

But as I said on the air to CBS, now we also need to start to educate the athletes themselves. Apparently they just aren’t  getting the message, and they need to be taught to always think first before acting on their impulses. Just a few months ago, several teenage soccer players in the Netherlands, angry about some controversial calls in a game, waited for the ref afterwards and literally kicked him and beat him to death. Those teenagers are now waiting trial.

I’m sure you join me in my concerns that these fatal attacks were just rare, rare occurrences….but clearly they have to make one worry.

And now, more than ever, one has to answer the question, “Why would anyone want to be an ump, ref, or official?”

DEALING WITH FINANCIAL CONCERNS: Do Parents Have a Right to Protest What’s Posted on the Team Shirts?


Accepting and Rejecting Youth League Sponsors

By Doug Abrams

 The opening game was still a few days away, but the Little League baseball program in Lambertville, Ohio faced the season’s first controversy last week when officials handed out uniforms for the Cubs, a team in the 6-8-year-old division.  The Cubs’ jerseys carried the name of the team’s sponsor, Todd’s Guns, a local business whose website advertises itself as a “class 3 dealer now authorized to sell machine guns and silencers.”

Some parents, including Cubs coach Barry Walters, refused to allow their children to wear the jerseys. “Don’t use my kid as a billboard to promote guns,” said Walters, who reportedly recalled December’s tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  “I think it was a [bold] move,” another player’s mother told the Toledo Blade, “just to assume a parent is fine with their child having something about firearms on a baseball jersey.”

By the end of the week, the dispute was resolved by compromise.  Children of parents who objected would receive a Cubs jersey with the gun shop’s name covered.

When the Lambertville controversy surfaced, the Little League’s board of directors said that they do not discriminate among prospective sponsors, and that the $500 fee paid by sponsors help fund the program.  Neither argument is persuasive.  Youth sports leagues should not (and almost certainly would not) accept every would-be sponsor that walks through the door, and I have never heard of a league that fell into bankruptcy for losing one sponsor.

Protecting Parental Prerogatives

In our nation, early childhood social and political acculturation is a parental prerogative.  Youth sports leagues risk usurping that prerogative when they hand little children uniforms with a name or message that may run counter to the values their parents teach in the home.  Hot-button social and political issues do not belong in sports leagues for 6-8-year-olds, or indeed for children of any age.

The Lambertville board of directors should have realized that names or messages invoking gun rights (or gun control) would unduly intrude on decisionmaking authority that parents are entitled to exercise for their children. Abortion is a similar hot-button issue.  As a condition for children’s participation, for example, a local sports league would be off-base if it provided uniforms bearing the name of pro-choice Planned Parenthood or pro-life National Right to Life Committee.  Lawyers call this evenhanded scrutiny “content neutral” because the decisionmakers (here, the league’s board of directors) do not distinguish between names or messages they like and ones they dislike, but rather treat both sides alike.  

When families join a sports program, parents expect participation to have a beneficial effect on their children’s upbringing.  But parents do not yield their authority to sort out gun control, abortion and other social and political issues in their own homes.  The 6-8-year-old Cubs likely played in an open-enrollment division designed to introduce baseball to the youngest children, but roster positions frequently depend on tryouts in later years.  Parents who rightfully object may appear like troublemakers or gadflies, and thus may feel forced to choose between remaining silent or perhaps jeopardizing their children’s position on the team.  

Determining whether a particular prospective sponsor carries a sensitive social or political message better left to the parents may require judgment calls from the board of directors, but parents and league administrators frequently make judgment calls as they raise children or serve their best interests in sports.  Edifying books find a welcome place in the home, for example, but pornography does not.  League administrators would likely reject sponsorship by a business that operates a local topless bar or an “adult” peep show. 

Leagues should similarly reject prospective sponsors whose names or messages would likely intrude on decisionmaking by some parents who object in good faith.  Content-neutral scrutiny says nothing pro or con about the sponsor but respects the parental role, even if rejection deprives league coffers of a few dollars.  Rejection of topless bars and peep shows might have similar effects, but all businesses are not created equal and losing a sponsor would not leave the league insolvent.


[Sources:  Nolan Rosenkrans, Gun Shop’s Name on Youth Jerseys Concerns Parents, Toledo (Ohio) Blade, Apr. 27, 2013; Toledo Blade, Parents Debate Over Baseball Jerseys Sporting Gun Shop Logo, Apr. 26, 2013]