Sports Ethics Minute: Pass Laws to Protect Officials!

A 36 year-old man was sentenced anywhere from 8 to 15 years in prison for the second-degree murder of 44-year-old John Bieniewicz, a referee in a Detroit soccer game.

AssaultThe murderer was not a professional soccer player and John Bieniewicz was not a professional referee. Bieniewicz was one of thousands of referees, umpires and other officials who trudge off every day to most any kind of amateur or high school sport you can imagine.

I really don’t care what was going on in the player’s mind when his actions led him to killing another man – and please, don’t try to justify it. By any parameter, he was wrong.

I have friends who officiate baseball, football and soccer on the high school and amateur levels. I will confirm something you already know: amateur, high school and most collegiate officials do what they do for the love of the game; nobody makes enough to meet the monthly car payment, let alone the mortgage. Many of them have quit officiating because they can no longer stomach the idiots on the sidelines.

The player, Bassel Saad, was also charged with assaulting a player back in 2005. He learned nothing. He is a hot-head and a bully. After he disagreed with Bieniewicz’ call, Saad reportedly came up to the official, and punched him. The force of the blow rendered the official unconscious and the official later died from the trauma.

At sentencing, the judge said to the perpetrator: “You personify everything that is wrong with the escalation of violence in sports.”

It is a nice sentiment Judge, but I would argue that this is not just about sports, it is about life in many areas of our culture. It is about entitlement and a disregard for authority and ethical responsibility.

So many now hide behind the anonymity of social media that I truly believe they feel their actions in public are also anonymous. These actions include the parents of one team member screaming obscenities at a 7 year-old from another team; a coach assaulting an official; sexual harassment and bullying of cheerleaders and on and on. Pick the sport, any sport, and you can find recent examples of completely over the top behavior.

Saad deserves jail time, but he should not be the poster boy for the problems of violent behavior in sports. He is paying for the consequences for his actions; in my opinion, not enough but he is paying. However, the penalties must be enforced with greater frequency and lawmakers need to start doing something about it.

Let the law catch up with the crime

I have stated this position before, and I re-state it now. Mandatory fines and/or jail sentences for any parent, coach, or player found guilty of assaulting an official. I also support banning, fines and jail time for any coach or parent who enters the playing field and assaults a player, official or another parent. If we must begin to teach people how to behave by meting out harsh legal action – and carrying it out, then let those penalties begin.

No official deserves to be assaulted and this is truly one of those situations where the old term, “Zero Tolerance,” must apply. I will accept no argument that justifies assaulting a man or woman who is trying to do their best.

In the case of adult leagues, nothing justifies an assault on an official. Nothing. It is not a matter of common sense; it is also a matter of ethics.



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