When our favorite teams find themselves trailing on the scoreboard, someone needs to be blamed. Sure, sometimes officials do make bad calls, but more often than not, they're the most convenient scapegoat for people who don't want to admit their favorite team isn't performing up to their lofty expectations.
And after all, yelling at the referee at sporting events is as American as apple pie, Cracker Jacks, and massive budget deficits.
Fans, parents and players alike are guilty of saying mean things to officials. Even Park City and Summit County athletes can sometimes be overheard uttering phrases in the direction of referees that would cause their grandmothers to wash their mouths out with soap.
Recently this disturbing trend hit too close to home. Ricardo Portillo, a rec league official refereeing a soccer game in Taylorsville, was punched in the head by a 17-year-old player for issuing him a yellow card. Portillo was taken to the hospital, slipped into a coma, and died exactly a week later.
Portillo was just the latest in a string of serious assaults on referees, with incidents occurring as far away as the Netherlands and Spain, and across the country in New Jersey.
In an interview with The New York Times, Barry Mano, the president of the National Association of Sports Officials, said "[N]ot a week goes by where we don't get at least two or three calls with reports of officials being assaulted."
It's time for that to change. Three officials assaulted per week is three too many.
Yes, the rivalry between Wasatch and Park City, as well as every other major rivalry across the world, sparks intense emotions, but at the end of the day, no game is worth a person's life.
These men and women in black and white, or yellow, or blue, are donating their time, for very little or no pay in most cases, so that athletes of all ages can participate in a fair, safe competitive environment.
Let the case of Ricardo Portillo be a lesson, not a trend. Sports are supposed to be an escape from the slayings, scandals and slander one must hear about on television and read about in the papers. Let's keep things like murder and assault out of our sports pages.
How? It starts at the youth levels. When kids see parents yelling at officials during games where everyone on the field is playing just so they can get a juice box and gummy snacks afterwards, they can't be blamed for thinking that sort of aggressive behavior is acceptable.
And when all they see on television is LeBron James and Dwight Howard complaining about every foul call (or lack thereof), Jim Harbaugh yelling at referees on the sidelines until his face turns red, and hockey players dropping their gloves for perceived slights, it's no wonder our kids don't respect officials.
If we as responsible adults, who should know better than to disrespect referees, can clean up our acts, then our children will surely follow. If we can be better role models, assaults on referees will become a thing of the past.