Pretend I show up where you work. First, I glare at you. Then I start questioning your decisions. I yell at you. I call you an idiot. I call you worse. 

And I don't care who else hears me. In fact, I enjoy the laughter when I say something particularly biting or clever. The response spurs me on.

Even though your coworkers are sitting nearby. Or, as we'll discuss in a moment, when your parents, your spouse, or your children are sitting nearby.

Are you cool with that little scenario?

Now think about the last sporting event you attended. Better yet, think about the last youth or high school sporting event you attended. At least one "fan" probably yelled something derogatory at a player or a coach. It's likely that more than one "fan" yelled at the officials.

Yet many people think those everyday occurrences are fine: After all, a little verbal abuse comes with the sports and the officiating territory.

"I bought my ticket," you might argue, "so I can say whatever I want."

Really? When you pay for a meal, does that give you the right to yell at the server?

"But I'm passionate about sports," you might argue. "And I support my child's team. So I try to get in the heads of the officials and the other team."

Really? You try to help your team win by finding a way to make another person -- even a kid -- fail?

Try explaining that in the cold light of day.

Did Carlos Ramos apply a double standard by penalizing Serena for saying far less than her male counterparts say without warning, much less sanction? (Sure seems like it.) Should Ramos have used greater judgment instead of simply enforcing the rules? (Others might have.) Should Serena have taken less of a stand and dialed it back before her actions cost her a point and then a game? She's earned the right to be the only person who can answer that one. 

Serena is an incredible tennis player -- arguably the best of all time -- at the top of her profession. He's an official who occupies a place at the top of his profession. I'm not qualified to "judge" Serena or Ramos; what is right or wrong for them is a question for someone much smarter than me.

I don't know have all the answers to the U.S. Open controversy.

But I do know this.

Adults who officiate at the youth and high school level are not only in it for the money. (While I played sports throughout high school, and in various rec leagues as an adult, you couldn't pay me enough to be a referee.)

So their reasons for officiating vary. Many played the sport and want to stay involved. Others enjoy the satisfaction of getting a little exercise while doing a job well. Others see it as a way to give back to the community. 

Whatever the motivation, the majority become officials because they want to play a part in activities that help kids become better athletes -- and better people.

And what about the teenagers who umpire or referee? While many just want to earn spending money, they also get the opportunity to learn about leadership, decision-making, responsibility... and to learn something about themselves. 

Yet for some reason, verbal abuse comes with the officiating territory -- even though in no other setting do we think it's okay for people to verbally abuse other people.

Much less for strangers to yell at kids.

And because people yell at them, those kids don't just learn something about themselves -- they learn something about other people. They learn forgiveness is theoretical, not actual... since even the smallest mistakes will not be tolerated. They learn to doubt themselves... even when their critic is at the opposite end of the field and often doesn't even understand the rules. (See: Soccer, offsides rule.)

And they learn that treating other people with respect and dignity is situational, not absolute... even when the actual stakes are extremely low, often nonexistent.

What should come with the officiating territory is a quick word of thanks and appreciation for doing an otherwise thankless job, one most of us would never agree to do. At the very least, when we disagree with a referee's decision, what should come with the territory is the courtesy of silence.

Oh, I know. We have the freedom to express our opinions, openly and in public, however derogatory or cruel or uninformed our opinions may be.

But like many things in life, just because we can... doesn't mean we should. Before we yell at a player or an official we should think about what we're really doing. 

Would we treat another person with such a lack of respect and dignity in any other setting? 

Of course we wouldn't.

So why should sports be any different?

Published on: Sep 12, 2018
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