West Virginia Wrestling


by Dr. Bill Welker

... on Sports and Law Suits

When will all these law suits end and could they affect organized scholastic and college sports as well? I talked about "greed and athletics" in past columns. Well, it is very possible that such greed might also cause the destruction of organized sports, including wrestling.

A few years ago, a couple of excellent officials (in a sport I won't mention here) were almost sued for negligence. They were overseeing a contest when one of the athletes, out of the blue, sucker punched his opponent. (Note: I, too, have been involved in such outbursts as a wrestling official.) The referees in question quickly kicked the offender out of the game while the other boy was sent to the hospital with (if I'm not mistaken) was a broken nose. Thus, these experienced officials handled an ugly incident in a very proper and professional manner.

The athlete who was injured could not compete the rest of the season. But get this, the boy's father decided that he was going to sue the officials for not keeping control of the game. Can you believe it! Fortunately, the presiding judge threw the case out of court before any expenses were incurred by the officials.

But now consider a possible alternative scenario. What if the judge would have allowed the case to be tried in a civil liability courtroom? Even if the officials won the case, imagine the cost for lawyers' fees. Moreover, what if they lost the case? Their liability insurance company would have had to dish out more monies in the settlement.

What would this mean? To begin with, the liability insurance of these and other officials would be raised to offset such costs--and the expense might be so great that many would drop out of the officiating ranks. Keep in mind, most referees, officials, and umpires are from middle-class backgrounds and do not have the financial resources to pay for high insurance premiums.

Secondly, the officials who could afford the insurance, in turn, would have to charge higher fees to oversee games, which many schools would be hard-pressed to pay (if, in fact, they could). Finally, young aspiring officials would figure that the positive aspects of the job do not compensate for the possibilities of looking at a lawsuit at every event--and say forget it.

Believe me, the first time such ludicrous cases are allowed in the courts (whether the plaintiffs win or lose), you will see the beginning of the end of organized sports, at least, in the educational institution setting. If it does, athletes will be the ones to suffer while money-hungry rogues fill the linings of their wallets. I pray this will never take place. Don't you?

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Updated October 20, 1997