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2012 News Releases

Study shows physical abuse, though common, is not the reason most soccer referees quit

June 14, 2012

Jake Milne
Dr. Jason “Jake” Milne, Assistant Professor of Sociology

Nearly 90 percent of soccer referees have been physically abused on the field, but that's not what's making them hang up their whistles, according to the findings of a research study by a Longwood University sociologist, himself a former ref.

"I wasn't surprised at all by the level of physical abuse. It's more common than you would expect," said Dr. Jason "Jake" Milne, assistant professor of sociology, who defined physical abuse in the study as any form of physical contact between a player and a referee such as a putting his finger on the ref's chest. "I was hit twice in my reffing career. Once I was pushed. The other time I was slugged in the shoulder-he missed my face and hit my shoulder. I've also been spat at.

"However, quitting doesn't have a thing to do with abuse," he said. "It has to do with identity-how committed are you to the role."

About half of all soccer referees in Virginia quit within two years. According to Milne's findings, they leave mostly because of issues having to do with family and work. His results were published in the fall/winter 2011 issue of Sociation Today, the online journal of the North Carolina Sociological Association. The article grew out of Milne's dissertation, "An Identity Theory of Role Exit among Soccer Referees."

"Ironically, I am my own statistic," said Milne, who reffed for 20 years before hanging up his whistle last year. "I would leave Sunday for Richmond at 6 a.m., ref all day and not return until 5 or 6 p.m. That cut into my family time. As an assistant professor, I have to worry about getting tenure, and rising gas prices were eating up my budget. It just wasn't worth it anymore. A lot of refs quit when they start a family or for work reasons. It's called ‘role conflict.' Something has to give. For me, reffing had to give."

In recent years, much of Milne's refereeing was in Richmond on Sundays when he would typically work three games. "It took a huge time commitment. Each game took about two hours, and I had to be there 45 minutes before the first game."

Does he miss refereeing? "There are days I miss it. But when I watch the Redskins' games with my son, who is 2-1/2, I don't miss it," he said. "For years my license plate said ‘DR REF,' so you can see it was a big part of my life. But then it became not as important as as my family or my job. A lot of soccer refs return to it when their kids are grown, and I anticipate I will probably go back. I enjoy being on the field."