Long-time Oklahoma referee Brian Barlow reached his breaking point more than a year ago.
He was done with parents screaming at him over calls he made at youth soccer games.
He was tired of the hostility.
He worried for the safety of his own 12-year-old daughter, who officiates games for younger children.
He figured if parents acted like bullies in public, the whole world might as well see them to hold them accountable. So he created a Facebook page called “Offside” on behalf of his fellow referees and wrote a simple mission statement: “A place where we can yell back!”
“Everyone is going to rag on you if you make a bad call or miss a call or don’t make the call that they want you to make and you cant say anything back,” he told KJRH in Tulsa. “All you have is a whistle.”
Last year he began gathering videos of people behaving badly towards refs and posting them on Facebook. Several have foul-language warnings because they show adults screaming obscenities at referees around children.
He calls people who harass refs “cheeseburgers.”
“Some people, frankly, want to punch me in the mouth,” Barlow told The New York Times about the reaction the page has stirred.
He encourages spectators to catch the rowdy in the act by offering $100 for every video he posts of people harassing refs.
“This is what happens if you act like this. You could end up on a videotape that ends up on Facebook, that ends up in front of 250,000 people,” he told ABC News.
Barlow, who owns a marketing company, calls his campaign S.T.O.P. - Stop Tormenting Referees Permanently. He’s created brightly colored “stop” signs for display at youth sports games to remind spectators to keep their cool.
“Warning: Screaming at Officials Not Allowed,” one sign reads.
Volunteers working with various sports leagues in Oklahoma hold up big, red S.T.O.P. signs at games on the sidelines when parents start getting out of hand.
The problem of hostile parents and adult fans reaches far beyond Oklahoma and is reportedly making it difficult to recruit youth sports referees.
“Why do you want to go spend an hour in 103 degree temperature for 15 bucks in front of 60 or 70 people to be humiliated?” Barlow said to KJRH. “What if I started screaming at you? How does that make you feel? You’re at your job.”
More than 70 percent of new referees in all sports quit within their first three years, a survey by the National Association of Sporting Officials discovered, the Times reported.
The No. 1 problem? Abuse from parents and coaches.
Referee shortages across the country have caused youth and high school games to be canceled and leagues to go under, the referee group’s president, Barry Mano, told the Times.
He said he gets one to two calls a week from people asking about the group’s assault insurance.
“The best outcome for the page is for clubs and organizations to know there is an initiative out there that is designed to hold people accountable for their actions and can truly help curb parental abuse from the side of a pitch,” Barlow told ABC.
One Oklahoma coach, Travis Featherstone, a referee himself, told the Times he wondered if Barlow’s Facebook page goes too far.
“There may be a different way to go about it, as in getting more parents involved with it instead of just pointing them out and making them look like they’re awful people,” he said.
“There is controversy around the page,” he told the TV station. “I’m not looking for anyone’s approval. I am looking for your attention.”