In September 2016, an NJ trial court opined (in an unpublished opinion) on proper parental conduct at the sporting events of their children. In the case of D.W. v. M.W. (FV-15-1025-16, Ocean County — a domestic violence case), the estranged wife asked for an order preventing her husband from attending their son’s Little League games. She alleges that the husband was abusive towards her son’s coach, criticizing his baseball related decisions and abilities in an embarrassing and demeaning manner — both verbally and on social media. The court had previously issued a restraining order against the husband, but allowed that he could communicate with the wife via email and text regarding the children and could attend the Little League games but had to stay 50 feet from his wife. The wife also alleged that their daughter started repeating the abusive language of her father.
The NJ courts have long recognized that sports participation has value beyond learning to hit and pitch. Participation in Little League can also help develop the values of inclusion, good citizenship, and maturity of character (Nat. Org. for Women v. Little League Baseball, 127 N.J. Super 522 [App. Div. 1974] — the case that gave girls the right to play Little League in NJ). Thus, modeling proper behavior by parents is important. The Judge noted that Little League Baseball does have a parental pledge for appropriate conduct.
Instead of holding a hearing on the “what happened,” the Judge opted to “reboot” the case by issuing conduct guidelines going forward (I corrected the court’s typos/errors):
- A parent may not publicly harass or demean his child or any other child;
- A parent may not publicly harass or demean any coach or official. If a parent has a particular issue which he or she wishes to communicate with a coach or official, then absent a legitimate emergency, the parent may address the issue with the coach or official, privately, either by letter or by any other method deemed acceptable by league officials, including but not limited to, if reasonably necessary, an in-person meeting, outside the presence of children, and consistent with any existing league rules, with all such communication conducted in a mature, diplomatic, and respectful manner;
- A parent may not publicly harass or demean any other parent or other spectators in the stands; including but not limited to that parent’s separated, divorced, or otherwise estranged spouse, or such person’s guest(s). A child’s sporting event is a wholly inappropriate place for any public domestic disputes of any kind;
- A parent who attends a child’s youth sporting event or practice has an affirmative obligation to act in a manner which upholds the dignity of the event. In particular, a parent may not act in a manner which is directly contrary to the core purposes of the event itself, such as teaching children concepts of maturity, respect, and discipline, and good sportsmanship. A parent who cannot or will not accept these parameters, and who acts in a manner which publicly undermines these core goals and values, may undermine the integrity of the event and the rights of all participating children and other adults in attendance;
- A parent is to fully comply with all other rules of conduct required by the league or organization in question.
If these basic rules are followed, then there logically should be no need for any further litigation between the parties on this issue. The bottom line, however, is that there is absolutely no place at the Little League field or any other youth sporting site for a parent who cannot or will not comply with these concepts of fundamental civility. While a parent may have the right to quietly discuss his or her views in a respectful manner with other individuals who wish to speak with him or her, a parent has no right to act in a manner which threatens to disrupt or cripple an otherwise positive atmosphere for children and all others in attendance, including participants, coaches, officials, and spectators alike.
And in case the husband didn’t get the importance of the above paragraphs, the judge further added:
The court explicitly notes that in this case, there may potentially be additional divorce litigation between the parties. Any future ongoing inappropriate public conduct by a parent at a child’s youth sporting event following this order may evidence a lack of self-control and parental judgment, which also may also be relevant on a child’s need for stability and peace. A parent who is seeking primary or joint legal custody of a child must presently demonstrate a fundamental ability to adhere to rules and orders, and to act in a peaceful and civil manner. An inability or refusal to do, either at a baseball field or elsewhere, may be relevant in future litigation concerning a child’s best interests, particularly if such conduct essentially ignores all of the cautions, warnings, and parameters set forth in this ruling.
This is an unpublished opinion, so it does not act as precedent. However, it can be seen as a guideline for parents on how to conduct themselves at their kid’s sporting events. The takeaway: act like an adult when at kid’s sporting events.