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First Downs and Second Guesses

Blog #147- June 1, 2017

     Back in the April blog, I wrote about how Kentucky fans were reacting to the University of Kentucky's two-point loss to North Carolina in a South Region Final that deprived the team of reaching the NCAA Men's Final Four.  Following Kentucky head coach John Calipari's post game criticism of the officiating, Kentucky fans took it upon themselves to attack the business of and personally attack one of the game officials, John Higgins of Omaha.

Within two days after the game, about 3000 phone calls came into Higgins' roofing office, with 75 percent coming from Kentucky area codes.  All were harassing, including death threats against Higgins and his family.  Higgins' business website got more than 28,000 hits in the days after the game, all bogus negative reviews which caused him to take down his business Facebook page. Higgins' home and business locations received extra law enforcement protection following the threats, said Sheriff's investigator Matt Barrall.

But there has been a break in the case.  Seven people and two media outlets have been positively identified through the work of local law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and sheriff's departments.  The names of the individuals and the media outlets have been forwarded to authorities in their jurisdictions, said a local attorney.  The Federal Communications Commission was informed of the two media outlets that were identified as promoting and posting a video montage that exposed Higgins' contact information for any potential violations related to applicable FCC regulations.

Higgins had no comment other than to say he was appreciative to local law enforcement for their work in the case.

Personally, I hope Higgins files lawsuits against the individuals and media outlets.  Clete Blakeman, the head referee in the 2016 Super Bowl, is an Omaha attorney.  Wouldn't it be deliciously ironic for him to take the case against these out-of-control fans?
Heck, he'd probably do it pro bono.

It's a tribute to local law enforcement that they were diligent and steadfast in pursuing these idiot individuals who think they can get away with harassing and using terroristic threats against Higgins and his family.  A precedent needs to be made against people like this just to make them think twice about playing on their anger when their team doesn't win.

This situation also illustrates the need for more individual states to enact legislation to make it a crime when sports officials are attacked either physically or electronically like Higgins.  Several states have legislation on the books protecting sport officials when a crime is committed against them in their position as a game official.  There needs to be more.

John Calipari (and all head coaches in all collegiate and professional sports) need to become much more aware of how their post game comments showing their frustration against game officials can become an invitation to their fans to take the kind of idiotic and dangerous actions they did against Higgins.  I hope Calipari expressed his concern to Higgins when he read of the electronic assault led by many of his Kentucky basketball fans.

And, hey, there were three officials working that Carolina-Kentucky game.  The other two officials didn't report any kind of harassment.  So why Higgins?  Some Kentucky fans seemed to believe that Kentucky always loses when Higgins is one of the game officials.  Of course, that's ridiculous thinking.  But again, these Kentucky fans went beyond the ridiculous this time.  They went into becoming a criminal element against Higgins.

Sports officials love being sports officials, especially in the high visibility areas of professional sports and NCAA Division I athletics.  They all understand that becoming a target for scorn during a game is probably a given.  But they also expect not to become a target of disgruntled fans who will cause them or their families harm.  That's when law enforcement needs to be called in. 

That's what happened with Higgins and Kentucky fans.  Kentucky fans crossed that line from being a fan during the game to becoming a criminal after it with their harassing and threatening calls, emails, and postings.  I hope justice is served against those individuals who took part in this criminal conduct.  A message needs to be sent that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated.

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