Funke proposes law to increase penalties for hitting or harassing referees

Oct 29, 2019

State Senator Rich Funke speaking at the Schottland YMCA in Pittsford
Credit James Brown / WXXI

State Sen. Rich Funke wants harsher penalties for people who assault sports referees during games. 

As he made the announcement at the Schottland YMCA in Pittsford, numerous Section V referees joined him. They say a growing level of disrespect toward referees is driving people out of the business. That’s why Funke has submitted legislation specifically protecting them.

“We’re here today to announce broad support for my legislation aimed at restoring respect for officials and protecting them from those who would mistreat them,” said Funke.

The referees say things are getting worse at the games; kids and their parents are screaming more, using profanity and threatening referees. 

Diane Williams, who referees Section V basketball, said it’s the norm.

“We’re seeing bad behaviors coming from student athletes and/or parents and fans at a younger age,” said Williams. “For some reason, there is this unspoken feeling that you can go into a gym, and the person wearing the stripes who are there to enforce fairness and teach gamesmanship and sportsmanship, that it’s OK to be verbally abusive (to them).”

Williams said the worst incident she was involved in happened last season. She said a parent barged onto the court during a game, threatened her and had to be restrained. Williams said she needed an escort to her car to ensure her safety. Other referees say the escorts are common. 

Funke’s bill would make incidents like one that into potential misdemeanors. Right now, they’re covered under harassment laws. More serious offenses now covered under assault charges could become higher-level felonies.

“When this kind of behavior is coming from parents or people in the stands, what kind of message are we sending to kids? That that’s going be tolerated and allowed? It can’t be,” said Williams.