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According to a July 5 article, the State Legislature is examining a new bill designed to criminalize abusive behavior against professional and amateur referees.

The article says it would make injuring a sports official a second-degree assault. It also says the law would "create a new crime," aggravated harassment of a sports official, to cover less physically harmful behavior. But the law would be redundant and a waste of taxpayers' money.

There are already laws making it a crime to harass or assault another individual. The problem is we don't apply them to sports heroes. They are allowed to spit, punch and throw tantrums on a regular basis, suffering few consequences. Penalties are delayed and reduced so much that they have very little meaning.

An athlete must commit rape or murder or bite off an ear before anyone begins to question whether he should continue to participate in the sport.

And, as the article tells us, when someone does properly address offenses -- such as the Athletic Association at Southwestern Middle School in Chautauqua County, which suspended an eighth-grader for swearing at a player and a referee and then grabbing the referee's shirt -- a judge steps in and reduces the sentence, thereby undermining the school's authority.

That is the problem.

Our family was filled with highly athletic young men. My brothers participated in football, basketball and track. They were all-high school, all-conference and all any parent could desire in promising young athletes.

When they were involved in a senior prank -- throwing water balloons during the senior play -- they were thrown off the team. But they accepted their punishment and our mother didn't engage an attorney to challenge the school's right to enforce the rules.

We don't need new laws that lenient judges can refuse to enforce. We need to enforce the old ones.

More importantly, we need to go back to insisting on basic manners and respect for one another and to teach our children (and adults) that if they don't play by the rules, they don't get to play the game at all.

Dorothy L. Delmonte Buffalo

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