Tennessee Bill Would Require Screenings for Sports Officials

By Michael Klazema on 2/3/2016
Last fall, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association voted to require background checks for all of its sporting officials. Now, a State Senator wants to go one step further and make the background check requirement a matter of law for sporting officials in the state.

The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (or the TSSAA) is the organization responsible for providing referees or other officials for high school sporting competitions throughout the state. The organization came under fire last fall, after discovering that one of their officials had not disclosed his full criminal history.

Before the discovery, the TSSAA didn't have a background check policy, instead relying on an "honor system" where officials who registered with the organization were expected to share their criminal histories. The official in question left out a 2007 conviction for attempted statutory rape—a charge that likely would have disqualified him from working with high school students.

Now, the TSSAA actually does have a policy in place that makes background checks mandatory for all sporting officials wishing to register with the organization. However, Republican State Senator Jim Tracy—himself a former official with the TSSAA—wants more assurance that refs are properly vetted before being allowed to officiate school sporting events. Tracy told The Tennessean that he "just assumed" the TSSAA was screening prospective officials, and that when he found out they weren't, he decided he needed to do something.

In addition to his history officiating basketball and football with the TSSAA (for 25 years, no less), Tracy was also a basketball official in the NCAA for a time. In short, he's a major proponent of school sports and has a vested interest in making sure kids have a safe environment in which to compete. His proposed legislation—Senate Bill 2118—would require all officials of "interscholastic athletic events" to submit to criminal background checks and provide fingerprints. Assumedly, the bill would apply to the refs and officials of all secondary school, middle school, and elementary school sporting competitions.

Any bill that helps to ramp up the safety policies in youth sports is a good idea. However, if there's one concern about Tracy's proposed legislation, it's that it might be a bit redundant now that the TSSAA requires background checks for officials. It's unclear whether or not the organization's current background check policy would mesh well with the state law (if passed), or if the law would create a system where officials might have to go through the background check process more than once. Fortunately, according to the Tennessean piece, the executive director of the TSSAA has requested a meeting with Tracy to go over the legislation in light of TSSAA's new background check requirement.


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