That’s enough – Why is abuse still tolerated?

It’s 2015 people

Why is it that I have to say that? I though we were supposed to be a progressive society. One that supports and encourages our children. I’m calling you out, hockey parents.

Let’s talk about this recent Globe and Mail article based on a survey from Ipsos Reid.

The meat of the story — that parents still witness abuse to referees. 59% of the parents say they witnessed abuse directed at a referee. 


I’ve been at the rink for 15 years and heard it all. And they say you need a tough skin to do this. While I don’t disagree, there is still an inherent and systematic problem with the game of hockey. Didn’t we teach our children ‘to play the game for fun’, and that ‘it’s not about winning or losing, but how you play the game.’?

When did that all change?

When did it become okay for dad to break the glass?

When did it become ok for parents to threaten other parents because of a penalty call?

Why is it that referee associations across the country are losing officials at an alarming rate?

I could pull examples all day.

It’s something that is never spoken about from the officials point of view. In fact, we are told to basically shut up, accept it and turn the other way.

While parents are told to take an online course to display sportsmanship, referees must abide by a code of conduct as well.

“…treat all other participants and spectators of the game with respect at all times. Use of abusive language or gestures (reverse abuse) is completely unacceptable under any circumstances.”

Wait, what?

Joe dad in the stand is allowed to curse, swear, berate, demean, insult… etc. the referee until he/she is blue in the face, but the minute I say something back, it’s reverse abuse?

Yes, I understand that being professional is key, and that being the better man is important, but why am I not allowed to say something back?

And, no, I’m not talking about a swear filled rant. Of course that needs to be penalized. But there are cases of reverse abuse in this country where referees get suspended, pulled from assignments or even over-looked for future games.

A spokesperson with the Central Zone Referees Committee in Calgary tells me there are several instances that can result in suspensions to the referee. A team must take 24 hours to cool down, and from there, they can submit a complaint to Hockey Calgary. If it’s warranted, it gets passed on to the referees committee. Approximately 70 cases this season have been reported to the zone based on rule clarification / interpretation, on-ice input and/or reverse abuse.

The source tells me that approximately two or three cases have resulted in suspensions of up to a month of their top level of hockey.

It’s rare, but it can happen. And apparently is based on verbal abuse  or ‘goating’ toward players or coaches.

In one case, a linesman got into a verbal altercation with the coach, and needed to stay on the opposite side of the ice for the entirety of the game.

Why does abuse even happen?

Oh, I’ve explored this at great length. I even wrote my exploratory final article about the culture surrounding the game, and why abuse happens.

It’s titled Offside: An exploration into Referee Abuse (see what I did there..? Offside)

It’s 25 pages long and it took my heart and soul to write that piece.

If you’d like to read it, click here: Final paper.

If you’re really curious as to what I discovered, read it. But, I can give you this gist of what I found out.

  1. Hubris, or sense of entitlement (Coakley & Donnelly, 2009, p. 160) 
  2. History of the game 
  3. Unwillingness to act
  4. Sport Ethic / Spirit of the game
  5. Other social / Cultural Theories

There is no one answer, or one quick fix. Parents can’t just take a course to make things better. Parents can’t be banned from the rink (as they’re trying in British Columbia right now), there needs to be a culture shift. The game needs to move away from being so intimidating and violent before there will even be a hint of change. There is no education program in the world that will make all parents conform. Why? Because there is too much grey area when it comes to penalty calls. The game is not as ‘black and white’ as you’d like to think it is. But the blame need not be on the official working the game. It needs to come from tolerance and acceptance as a fluid and ever-improving game.

The referees have a rule book to abide by. The parents should too. Yes, your kids are playing the game, but it’s someone else’s kid who is officiating. He or she is maybe a year or two older than the players themselves. Give your head a shake before you think yelling at the referee is the answer.

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Overweight and unhappy, I needed a change. Fitness, Philosophy and love is all you need.

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