HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Physically assaulting a referee or umpire has long been a crime because assaulting anyone is a crime — former Spring Grove football player Tyree Brooks pleaded guilty in 2022 to a charge of assaulting a referee in 2021.
But harassing any “sports official” — from referees and umpires to athletic directors and trainers — would become its own specific third-degree misdemeanor if a proposed bill becomes law.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Dillon (D-Philadelphia), passed out of Pennsylvania’s Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday on a bipartisan 13-2 vote. It could become law if it passes the full Senate and House and is signed by Governor Josh Shapiro.
“This bill is about protecting the unsung heroes of our sports communities,” Dillon said shortly before the vote.
“This may help with recruitment and retention,” said Sen. Lisa Baker (R), who chairs the Judiciary Committee. “It’s been challenging for many sports to find qualified men and women to serve as officials.”
That’s the reason a few leagues around the world — although none yet that abc27 News could find in the United States — are allowing referees to use police-style body cameras.
Johnny Misley, the CEO of Ontario Soccer — which includes more than 500,000 Canadian players — said the organization noticed a major drop in referee registrations. The question?
“What does that mean?” Misley said. “And we surveyed a number of referees, and we found out that the number one reason they weren’t coming back was because of referee abuse.”
So within the past month, Ontario Soccer has begun trialing the use of body cameras similar to the ones also being used, as of earlier this year, in England — the first such organization in North America to do so, Misley said.
He said just weeks into the experiment, it’s far too early to have enough data to conclude anything. But “we’re finding out anecdotally, at least, right now that the technology is actually working as a visual deterrent,” Misley said.
He said it starts when team captains gather before a game.
“Someone points out, ‘Hey, that referee’s got a camera on — we’d better behave,’ or those types of comments,” he said.
He said he’s heard other accounts of — for example — the behavior of someone in the stands beginning to escalate. But then a referee turns toward the person, and the person notices the camera and thinks twice.
The cameras are always on, but not everything that happens on the field is automatically recorded for perpetuity.
When a referee wants to record because of an escalating situation, they press a button. The recording that becomes available for review later begins 30 seconds before the referee presses the button.
“So it has context,” Misley said. “It records the situation, and that information can be used. Then it’s uploaded automatically” and can’t be altered by anyone involved in an incident, including the official.