When it comes to giving people the benefit of the doubt, nobody is better than my mom.
“Oh,” she would say when my brothers or I would try to describe the horribleness of a particular person we encountered as we were growing up. “That’s just how he is.”
It did not matter the accusations we levied; she would answer the same way.
Mom, he screamed at us for no reason.
“Oh, that’s just how he is.”
Mom, he stole my bike.
“Oh, that’s just how he is.”
But mom, she admitted to stealing the milk from the second graders and using the money to buy cigarettes for the first graders.
“Oh, that’s just how she is.”
Mom, he was caught red-handed giving heroin to puppies.
“Oh, that’s just how she is.”
She would go on like that forever, giving out benefit of the doubt after benefit of the doubt. It isn’t that she sees the best in everybody. She just refuses to believe the worst in the people she knows.
While not many of us hand out the benefit of the doubt like my mom, we collectively give it way too often when it comes with putting up with unruly fans and parents who are driving away youth sports officials at an alarming rate.
You cannot turn to a social media page without seeing yet another video of a sports official being physically assaulted by fans.
Whether it is a basketball referee being chased and beaten by a group of fans or a female umpire getting punched in the face, you see it over and over.
Sure, when a parent attacks an official, all benefit of the doubt is lost. But what about all the benefitting that led up to that assault?
Those violent acts do not just come out of the blue. Nobody goes to a game planning to punch an umpire.
Our sporting world needs a serious attitude adjustment in a very bad way. It needs it almost as bad as Missoula needs a traffic engineer.
It really is that bad.
The reason is that we repeatedly give the benefit of doubt to the people we know are poisoning the watchers of youth sports.
He screamed profanities at the official?
“Oh, that’s just how Henry is.”
He threatened to beat up some of the parents of the opposing baseball players?
“Oh, that’s just how Dave is.”
He accused the officials of cheating in the first quarter?
“Oh, that’s just Scott being Scott.”
Most fans do not go to games believing that they will yell at the officials all game. But one angry fan tends to lead to another angry fan. And then another and another.
Soon, the number of angry fans spread around the gym, and mob mentality can take over.
Sure, yelling out “that’s a charge” is a long way from chasing a sixth-grade referee around the gym. But it is a step.
Every crazy action needs to take a first step. That fan throwing a punch was probably a reasonably level-headed person walking into the arena.
Year after year, we see this situation getting worse, and yet we hardly ever throw a fan out of a sporting event.
In one local basketball game this year, a coach was ejected for back-to-back technical fouls in a game. There is little doubt that the first technical was about 93 percent the fault of the parents at the game.
These officials were literally screamed at for every possession.
Right from the opening tip, both sides were really mad. The home parents thought they were cheating. The visiting parents thought they were cheating. By the third quarter, the officials had enough, and nobody could blame them.
How would you like to be accused of cheating or incompetence repeatedly for an hour and a half?
Now, you would have to be crazy to believe that any high school official is going to risk his reputation and possibly his livelihood to fix a high school basketball game like it was the NBA. If you have veins sticking out of your forehead a minute into a high school game, then it might be time for you to take a step back.
At the rate we are going, there is no reason at all to believe that next year will be worse than this year. That pattern keeps continuing because we keep giving fans the benefit of the doubt.
Pretty soon, there will be no officials at all.
Over the last three school years, I have seen two fans thrown out of high school games for berating officials. Both of them were parents from out of town.
The worst one was the Missoula fan who, after singling out an official by name with a profanity-laced tirade, threatened to beat up several Butte fans before leaving the gym giving the hometown crowd double-barreled birds.
Amazingly, the fans from Missoula did not think the fan should be thrown out.
“Oh,” they said. “That’s just how he is. He wasn’t really going to fight those people.”
They know that fan personally, and they are probably right. He just probably got carried away in the moment. Normally, he is probably a great guy.
His actions, though, definitely deserved an escort out of the arena, and he is hardly alone in that. Tons of parents cheering for the home team and the visitors should have been shown the door in recent years.
To address the problem, we need more parent and fan ejections. A lot more.
The best way to do that is to have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to yelling at officials.
If you stand up and scream about the team foul discrepancy on the scoreboard, take a hike.
If you yell “call them both ways,” you have to go.
If you bellow about a called strike three, tell your story walking.
Whether it is high school sports, Legion baseball, Little League or YMCA sports, it is time to stop putting up with this nonsense.
Cheer for your team until you lose your voice. Be loud, and be proud. But be respectful of the men and women who are making very little money to officiate so your children can play.
The added bonus will likely be that your players will respond much more to your positive encouragement than they will to your negative energy.
If parents are yelling that the officials are out to get them, then the players will probably think the officials are out to get them. Then they probably won’t play as well.
Night after night, we put up with parents saying things that would get their sophomore kicked out of the gym. That makes no sense.
It really is about time that parents are held to the same strict standards to which we hold the students.
A zero-tolerance policy would also take the pressure off the administrators charged with keeping order. They would no longer laugh off ridiculous behavior under the guise of the benefit of the doubt.
Oh, they can still let Luke be Luke. But he’s got to do it outside.