Excerpted from a Daily Record editorial
Game officials in New Jersey will be subject to criminal background checks before being allowed to work any events sanctioned by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), beginning with the 2018-19 season.
The only question now appears to be what type of check, and what it will cost. Regardless of the final decision, however, this requirement is long overdue; it’s frankly troubling that it didn’t exist already.
Several states have taken steps to adopt criminal background checks for officials in the wake of investigative reports from several media sources revealing certified athletic officials with extensive, serious criminal records working games. In Colorado, for example, the background checks were mandated in 2014 after a basketball referee with a significant criminal past was convicted for groping nine girls during games he officiated.
The NJSIAA instituted a policy beginning with the new school year charging officials with a $10 annual fee for background checks. But Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, offered a bill requiring a more exhaustive one-time screening for $100 that includes fingerprinting, similar to what school employees undergo. That proposal passed the Assembly unanimously this week, but has yet to be taken up by the Senate.
We see no reason to balk at the more comprehensive approach, which would presumably render the NJSIAA mandate moot. NJSIAA’s executive director Larry White suggested that because officials do not have the same level of individual, one-on-one contact with children as coaches and teachers, they needn’t be subjected to the greater level of scrutiny. That, however, strikes us as a silly line to draw in rationalizing a less thorough screening.
Some assigners of officials worry the bill and the added expense could exacerbate an already burgeoning shortage of officials. That also seems a dubious argument. The $10 annual fee will catch up to and eventually exceed the one-time $100 expense for officials who stick around awhile. We also doubt anyone would drop their officiating plans merely because of that initial cost. On the other hand, if we lose a prospective official because of what a background check might unearth, then the legislation will be well worth it.
We’ve also grown weary of youth sports officials continually playing the shortage card in objecting to potential new regulations, as if each new measure will inevitably hurt our children by denying them opportunities. At times the concerns are valid; we agree, for instance, that the state’s anti-bullying laws have been exploited to unfairly target coaches who run afoul of an influential parent or school official. The impact of such bullying accusations can have a chilling effect on all coaches and highlight a need for refining the laws and providing coaches with some level of protection.
Other times we’re more skeptical, however, as with concerns that requiring AEDs (Automated External Defibrillators) and related training for youth sports organizations will meaningfully discourage coaches from participating. Any hand-wringing over a $100 criminal background check for officials seems similarly overwrought. We support the legislation.