Flynn’s push to make youth sports safer for officials and players clears first legislative hurdle

Flynn’s push to make youth sports safer for officials and players clears first legislative hurdle

TRENTON, N.J. – Escalating bad behavior at youth sporting events are not only ruining treasured pastimes, but making them dangerous, says Assemblywoman Vicky Flynn. The Assembly Judiciary Committee agreed Thursday and cleared her bill increasing penalties for anyone who assaults youth sports officials, participants and players.

WATCH: Flynn on tackling bad behavior at youth sporting events

“We know the psychological long-term effects that parents fighting in a home has on children. I don’t know why it’s any different when it’s at a soccer field, a basketball court or a hockey rink,” Flynn (R-Monmouth) said during the committee hearing. “There was an umpire at a youth 13 baseball game who got sucker-punched by a coach. None of these games are worthy of that type of response.”

In June, a 72-year-old umpire was attacked by a coach during a youth baseball game in Branchburg and left with a broken jaw and a concussion. High school coaches have also reported being verbally harassed by parents and there are increasing incidents of brawls occurring in the stands during games.

The long-term damage these toxic and sometimes violent incidents cause to children is what this legislation is trying to avoid, says Flynn.

“Parents, spectators, staff, coaches and anyone else behaving badly during sporting events involving children must be stopped and held accountable. Adults should be role models for children, but they are threatening the future of youth sports by creating a toxic environment for kids, resulting at times in violence and causing long-term mental damage to kids,” Flynn added.

Under the bill, a person committing a simple assault against a sports official, participant, player or coach at school or community-sponsored youth event faces a possible prison term of 18 months and a fine up to $10,000. The measure also upgrades an aggravated assault at a youth sporting event to a third-degree crime, which carries a prison sentence of five to 10 years and a fine up to $15,000.

“I was actually an umpire who had to endure some berating from some parents,” Assemblyman Robert Auth (R-Bergen), a member of the committee, said. “It was really terrible. It has been escalating over the years. I’m very happy that the assemblywoman has taken the lead on this.”

The bill is part of Flynn’s “Penalty Box Act,” which also includes a measure to apply school districts’ anti-harassment, intimidation and bullying policies to other members of the school community like athletics staff and school volunteers (A4486). That measure has been referred to the education committee and will provide players the ability to have their voices heard to speak out against these harmful environments.

“I am aiming to address the earlier warning signs of violent tendencies to avoid the ultimate crime of assault,” Flynn said. “While we missed an opportunity to include harassment in our bill today, I’m confident that my colleagues in the Assembly will come together on legislation that promotes civility and tackles all bad behavior. No one should have to watch, play or participate in a youth sport that supports a toxic environment.”