An almost-foul ball (FILE via Shutterstock)

HARTFORD, CT – No matter the call, somebody’s always got a bone to pick with the referee. At a time when civility has been lacking, Connecticut lawmakers may consider hiking the penalty for attacking anyone officiating a sporting event. 

Rep. Emmett Riley, D-Norwich, filed a bill with the legislature’s Judiciary Committee to impose stiffer penalties for assaulting a sports official on or near athletic facility grounds. Riley proposed the bill at the request of a longtime baseball coach, and said years of watching his brother referee high school sports games have convinced him the idea is worth considering.

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I’ve seen my brother referee in high school games and parents or players were going after him, coming after him in the parking lot. People have got to understand that not every kid is going to get a scholarship to play whatever sport in college or make the NBA,” he said. “You got to temper it down.”

As of Monday, the bill was a barebones concept that did not yet specify how much the penalty would increase. But the idea is similar to other Connecticut statutes which impose stiffer punishments for assaulting police officers or first responders. 

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said Monday the idea was worth debating. Candelora, a Republican who runs a sports field complex in North Branford, said he had not seen significant incidents of players or fans attacking officials at his facility. He worried about the potential for accidental collisions to be considered assaults under the heightened law. 

Still, Candelora welcomed the conversation saying it pointed to an increased disrespect for people in uniform. 

“Whether it be an official, a referee or a police officer, I think the bill has merit in that it points to the general disdain that seems to have become more common against people of authority,” he said.

Riley said that umpires and referees shouldn’t be lumped wholesale into the same category as emergency responders, cops and firefighters. But there is common ground there at least for the duration of the sporting event, he said. 

“During a game, their word is the rule, the law, so to speak. So when they make these calls, you know parents and players are fired up and don’t want to agree with that call. When that happens, sometimes it goes further,” he said. “People just get all worked up. I understand competition, but it’s just competition. You’ve got to leave it on the court.”