But the problem isn't limited to this country.
Several Dutch teens are awaiting trial in the beating death late last year of a volunteer linesman who was working his son's youth soccer game. In Brazil last month, a referee was kicked in the chest after the final whistle of a third-division match of the Sao Paulo state championship. A referee in Kenya has filed a lawsuit against the national soccer federation, contending he is impotent after a coach grabbed his testicles in protest over a call. A Spanish soccer player was banned for three months last year after throwing a plastic water bottle at a referee. Also last year, a soccer player in New Zealand was banned indefinitely after he punched a referee and broke his jaw.
And at hockey's Under-18 World Championships in Estonia last month, a Lithuanian player hurled his stick at a referee, hitting him in the upper body.
"Part of this isn't a sport problem, part of it is a societal problem," said Dan Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State. "You watch TV, and the trash talking that's accepted. If you're famous, you're almost supposed to get into trouble. Why is everyone infatuated with Lindsay Lohan when she seems like a spoiled brat?"
Added Barry Mano, the founder and president of the National Association of Sports Officials, "We've become so loud and so brash. It's about me and about being in the spotlight. All of those things play out in the games we play."
Part of the beauty of sports — and youth sports in particular — has always been its power to educate and transform. To instill in athletes skills and values they can use for the rest of their lives, in arenas that don't have hardwood floors or boundaries outlined in chalk. Talk to any CEO or other successful person, and odds are he or she can trace the lessons they learned about teamwork, fair play, leadership and overcoming challenges back to Little League, Pee-Wee football or some other youth sport.