Saturday, September 27, 2014

Please, no lawyers in youth soccer!

A parent writes to the president of a youth soccer program (names changed):

Thank you again for offering to advocate on behalf of my daughter, Mary, who wishes to comply with her pediatrician's advice not to remove the very small studs with which her ears were pierced this morning.  I've taken the liberty of drafting a legal document that would eliminate any liability that NGS might possibly have in connection with Mary's compliance with her pediatrician's advice. I've been a practicing attorney for over fifteen years; I cut-and-pasted the key language in this document from boilerplate I've used countless times on behalf of a wide variety of clients.  I've attached a signed jpeg version, along with a Word version in case you or anybody else would like to make any revisions.

This is, of course, quite time sensitive.  If at all possible, I'd like to close the loop before Mary's team's next soccer practice, which is scheduled for Friday afternoon.  If you think it would be helpful for me to reach out to anyone else, please let me know. 

Again, thank you very much for trying to help Mary.  She loves playing soccer with her team, and the idea of not being able to play for the rest of the season is causing her the kind of distress that only seven year olds are capable of feeling.  Because we failed to anticipate and prevent this problem, my wife and I feel awful, as well.  If you can help solve this problem, it would mean an enormous amount to my family.

Sorry, but no. My advice to the league president:

Absolutely, absolutely not.  This is a well established rule throughout the state and the league and we should not make exceptions for one girl. We have drilled referees for years to make no exceptions. It puts the referee in a terrible position, and then others will say, "What about me?"  I don't care what kind of legal release the parent is willing to sign.  This is the referee's responsibility, and I wouldn't want any referee, much less a youth referee, forced to make the decision.

The mistake is easily rectified:  New earrings can be removed for and hour and reinserted.  Kids and parents have done it over and over again.  A little ice applied to the ear solves the problem of reinserting, perhaps with some Vaseline if needed or antibiotic if desired.

This stuff about a pediatrician's advice is really silly.

If the family doesn't want to go through the removal and reinsertion, they can simply take the earrings out and have a new hole made in a few weeks.

BTW, this is a time for parents to explain to the seven year old that sometimes, rules are rules, and to say it in a positive manner and not "blame" anyone.  She'll do what they tell her and she'll be happy about it if they handle it the right way.

In summary, this has happened dozens of times in the past, and we all get through it quite easily.

The coach should also enforce the rule during practice, by the way, so it does not even arise at game time.  The referee should not be the first person to mention the problem to the coach at game time.  It should also be solved well before that.

A colleague added, in agreement:

There is a reason for that—athletic, medical, legal, and insurance entities have advised and mandated that we, as referees, are first and foremost responsible for maintaining safety in soccer matches. Soccer leagues, tournaments, and the companies that provide them with liability insurance specify in their rules that no jewelry will be allowed on players—especially children players. Every time a player uses her head to play, or is bumped in the head by another player, or falls to the ground, or has a ball ricochet off her head, she is potentially inches from having the impact point involve her ears.

Anyone interested in safety—a referee, a coach, an administrator, or a parent—should be completely committed to the enforcement of the no jewelry rule.  And even if the latter three groups are not committed, we as referees must, with no exceptions, protect our young players.  I have officiated nearly 2,800 games in 18 years; I have never allowed earrings on girls or boys—taped or otherwise.  Dozens and dozens of times, I have counseled players, coaches, and parents that they can follow the remedies suggested in Paul's note, or they can choose not to play.  I say it gently, politely, and empathetically, but I am always firm.  It is the right thing and the only thing to do with young players, including all high school games.

And another person added:

It really needs to be enforced at all levels. I would occasionally ask folks if they wanted to be sent links to pictures and articles of girls suffering major injuries from playing with earrings, but never got any takers. 


Anonymous said...

If you think that's bad you should see them in the medical world. They go for the most stupid things, when it is obvious they disobeyed the law and lie, they only make the doctor look bad.

Kicking Back ‏@kicking_back said...

From Twitter:

@Paulflevy you have struck a chord to me on so many levels here: referee, lawyer, administrator, player, and yes, former earring wearer. =)

Karla Hailer said...

From Facebook:

Parents agree to the rules when they enroll their children in sports programs. Just because they choose not to read the documents they sign doesn't make the agreement or rules any less binding.... lawyer or no lawyer.

One of the tough decisions parents need to make is where and when to say "no" to their children and begin to teach consequence of action in real terms. A child says, "I want to get my ears pierced," and the parent needs to say, "Then that means you may have to sit out the rest of the soccer season, but if you wait until the season is over then it's not an issue."

We all have decisions to make through out life, it's important for "Mary" to learn that so that she can become a good community member. It may inspire Mary to say, "This rule is no longer valid for these reasons..." and she can then make her argument rather than thinking, "I want my cake and eat it to, I will hire a lawyer to make it so!"

Samantha Frances said...

From Facebook:

As someone who played soccer her whole life, and was a referee, and now a lawyer, I whole heartedly agree with Paul. I will never forget after begging my mom forever to get my ears pierced. When she agreed, she was able to find an exact day to do it in second grade that was after soccer season and before basket ball season so there wouldn't be an issue. She is a psychologist. I guess if she wanted to be an ass she could have written to the head of NGS about the psychological effects not having my ears pierced would have on me? But of course she didn't do that b/c she is a reasonable human being and didn't try to use her degree to get her daughter unnecessary special treatment.

Several from Facebook said...

From Facebook:

Theresa To Be Announced: I have had more of this type of experience with the "sense of entitlement" well off than any other population. They always want to be the exception to the rule because it emphasizes their social standing. It is important to be important.

Beth Israel: It isn't easy running a youth sports league...

Theresa To Be Announced: Particularly since some parents see their children as an ego extension of themselves.

Lyette Mercier: I'm frankly stunned that the parents were willing to put their child at risk for serious injury rather than tell her "sorry, our job and the league's job is to make sure you don't get hurt."

Anonymous said...

I (I'm an attorney)enjoy reading your blog, but have to say no to your advice to the youth soccer league president.

Better advice would be to eliminate heading for youth soccer players.

I was also disappointed in your cheap shot at lawyers. Please read further in your blog where your "colleague" suggests athletic, legal, medical and insurance entities are in support of the no jewelry rule. Sounds like an awful lot of meddling in youth sports. It's like your lawyers are o.k., but not so much parents who are also lawyers. I remember when we use to go to the park and choose up sides. The good old days, we were young.

As for "another person" who has bloody evidence of the horrors that will occur if this youth is permitted to wear her studs, I think there are some anti-abortion groups that have similar evidence in support of their position.

Maybe think about if your youth soccer league has too many advisers, presidents, well "drilled" referees, and rules with no exceptions.

Paul Levy said...

Here's my piece on heading. We agree!

The issue is here is not whether the rule is correct. It is whether someone should have the right to exempt his child in the manner proposed.

Nils Bruzelius said...

From Facebook:

Actually, folks, this is about one thing. The grown-ups need to grow up, and understand that they do no favor to their children when they endeavor to make their lives risk-free. In fact, if you try to make your kids' lives risk-free, all you do is infantilize them. That said, if there is a reasonable rule in place, enforce it, with no fear or favor. And if the lawyers object, well, you know what Falstaff said.

Anonymous said...

Whether heading is allowed or not won't prevent kids from getting hit in the head with a ball. The younger they are, the less control the kickers have over where the ball is going and the less the kids in the way know to duck. I've refereed a lot of games and rare is the girls game when someone doesn't catch a ball to the head or face. I suspect the mom/lawyer is using the tools she knows (writing a legal opinion) rather than admitting a timing mistake - timing of the piercing - and complying with a well-supported policy. Just as we training the kids at the younger age groups, we get to train the parents. No means no, and there are plenty of good reasons. As aside, I was also pleased to see the recent FIFA guidance on head coverings. We have successfully handled that situation in our AYSO Region for years...

Paul Levy said...

It was a father, not a mother.