What do young people learn when a high school basketball coach breaks his clipboard and screams at a referee? When Roberto Alomar spits in an umpire’s face? When a church-league softball player slams his bat through the backstop fence? When Dennis Rodman head-butts a referee and kicks a photographer?
Ask Bob West. He was injured while refereeing a Colville High School wrestling match. A young competitor head-butted him. West’s recovery took months and cost thousands.
Now he’s urging the Legislature to pass a law that would authorize judges to impose exceptionally severe sentences when a criminal assault is directed against a sports official. The bill also would apply to assaults against teachers, from elementary school through college.
It’s a good proposal and it ought to be enacted.
Sure, it’s no cure-all. It’s only a turn of the screw on the machinery of criminal justice. The problem it aims to combat is cultural, complex in its roots and complex, therefore, in its remedies.
But the bill is a signal. It says society has had enough with disrespect for authority figures - even in sports, where a certain amount of rowdiness has been expected, and even in the classroom, where a certain amount of immature brattiness goes with the territory.
In word as well as deed, popular culture seems to have lost track of the foul lines. Children amuse themselves with music and movies that romanticize and cheapen violence. Professional athletes and their fans insult and assault one another as well as referees.
Have these things really gotten worse?
For the answer, think about a single word: manners. Today, that word seems quaint, naive, vaguely repressive. Isn’t it healthier to let it all hang out?
Well, maybe not.
There was a time, a more innocent time, when it seemed unthinkable - unsporting, even - to call the police over a vicious foul on the basketball court, some bloody fisticuffs in hockey or a kid dumb enough to go nose to nose with his teacher.
Those days are gone. Today, kids occasionally show up at school with guns. Trash talk is epidemic at sporting events and provokes a worsening degree of violence from the pros to the recreation leagues. The violence often gets vicious, as emergency room surgeons and former athletes in wheelchairs can attest.
The only way to bring this to a halt is to try. Change requires of us all a new commitment to decency, from the dinner table to the classroom to the basketball court to the movie studio and, yes, to politics.
House Bill 1150 is a start. But success will take more than a new state law.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board