Letter To Editor: Enough Is Enough: Bad Behavior By Coaches, Parents And Fans Must Stop

Karissa Niehoff (left) and Que Tucker (right).

By Dr. Karissa Niehoff, Chief Executive Officer of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), and Que Tucker, Commissioner of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association

There’s an unfortunate trend continuing in North Carolina and across the nation that must be stopped: the bad behavior of coaches, parents and fans at high school athletic events.

We’ve all seen it: the yelling, harassing, berating, disrespecting and even physically assaulting high school referees, umpires and other officials during and after games. And oftentimes, the harassment continues on social media. Perhaps you’ve witnessed it firsthand or even been one of those offenders yourself.

Not only is this behavior unacceptable and embarrassing, but it’s also having serious consequences on the future of high school sports.

That’s because another unfortunate trend is sweeping the nation: a critical shortage of high school officials in every state. The #1 reason? You guessed it: Coaches, parents and fans mistreating officials.

National surveys of officials report alarming statistics*:

  • 55% of officials say verbal abuse from coaches, parents and fans is the #1 reason they quit.
  • 59% don’t feel respected.
  • 57% think sportsmanship is getting worse.
  • 84% feel officials are treated unfairly by spectators.
  • 46% have felt unsafe or feared for their safety due to spectator, coach, administrator or player behavior.

Officials are quitting faster than new ones are signing up. It’s a major area of concern for states like North Carolina just to cover games. We’re already seeing middle school and JV games being cancelled and, in some cases, varsity games too. All because there aren’t enough officials.

Unfortunately, bad behavior at high school athletic events has become normalized. It is almost expected that coaches, parents and fans will disrespect the individuals serving as officials.

This culture of bad behavior and the negative perception of officials must change now. Everyone involved in high school sports—parents, coaches, administrators, fans, the media—must turn their focus to the student-athletes playing the games and away from the individuals officiating the contests.

The bottom line: With no high school officials, there can be no high school sports.

That’s why the NFHS is partnering with state high school associations across the country to launch the nationwide #BenchBadBehavior campaign. We’ll use the power of social media along with other tools to help educate everyone about the importance of good behavior at high school athletic events.

You can help by being a positive role model at your high school’s athletic events. And if you think you have what it takes to be a licensed official, sign up today at HighSchoolOfficials.com and help fill an urgent need in North Carolina!

*Officially Human: The State of Sports Officiating 2020; National Association of Sports Officials: National Officiating


  1. Here’s an idea: You stop letting boys play on girls’ teams and in girls’ locker rooms, and we’ll give your opinion the time of day. Deal?

    • What does this have to do with simple respect for sports officials? No one deserves respect until all of the issues you have with the world are resolved in a way that makes you happy? What miserable people you and Jen R must be to be around.

  2. I can’t help but feel that the demonization of anyone in authority has led to this increase in disrespect and bad behavior. Whether it be police, teachers, bosses at work or parents, I’m not the slightest bit surprised at the horrible behavior. When it is accepted to riot and commit crimes when something happens you don’t like and it’s excused in the name of acceptable outrage.. do we really wonder why it has trickled down into the schools? Frankly, I wouldn’t officiate any sport at the high school or middle school level. Let people go without sports for a while. Heck we did it in 2020 for most of the year and the world still existed.

  3. What a bunch of SNOWFLAKES!!! Can’t handle some unkind words from the stands?!?! I say, fire them all (or let them quit) and let folks with thicker skin (not the snowflake lib socialists who seem to be everywhere) be the umps!

    • Man, I was hoping you would think the fans/coaches etc. should #takeresponsiblity and not be complete jerks to people who are doing something beneficial to the community. No one is perfect and referees of all levels make mistakes and bad calls. They don’t deserve to be verbally harrassed or threatened. Would Jesus agree with your comment? #No

      • @JD: I’m pretty sure Jesus would agree with me… Ever hear of turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-42), or ignoring people because they know not what they do (Luke 23:34), or not entertaining accusations from others (Timothy 5:19). If you’re a snowflake, then being a ref or ump isn’t for you — I’m pretty sure Jesus would agree.

        • It sounds like you’re okay with harrassing other people for making mistakes, which I’m pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t be cool with. Sometimes it’s difficult to turn the other cheek and ignore people when they’re threatening injury over a bad call. I’ve umpired rec baseball and coached Middle School baseball and I made mistakes doing both, but parents, fans, and coaches complained respectfully (mostly), because they realize it’s a sport and not a life altering event. People need to chill out and be respectful to each other, no matter the situation.

  4. They are being abused because they are not doing a good job. My son played high school sports ten years ago and it was bad then. Basketball was like watching professional wrestling on TV sometimes. The players were allowed to foul and curse and travel and double dribble to the point that the game was out of control. Control that was supposed to be managed by the “official”. Training needs to be provided to the referees and the coaches. Once they get their act together and teach the students correctly during practice and the referee knows what to call and when to call, then and only then can control be maintained during a game between rivals.

  5. How about we get rid of professional sports so there is no need for parents to get so angry over a sport because they think their kid is the next superstar and can do no wrong? The problem is we put too much emphasis on sports as a society and make playing college and professional level too competitive with the lure of huge monetary rewards if you make it big. Return sports to being enjoyable and fun like they used to be not a big business. More God worship, less sports worship would solve many problems.

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