Referees, umpires and other sporting event officials are no stranger to dealing with verbal abuse.

Whether it's over a bad call, or just a parent upset that a call didn't go their team's way, comments can take an emotional toll on an official.

Area lawmakers came together Friday morning to introduce new legislation that would protect officials from harassment and assault.

Their bill would elevate penalties for harassing and assaulting an official and require education for all leagues.

Of 17,000 refs surveyed by the National Association of Sports Officials, 48% of men felt unsafe or feared for their safety and 45% of women felt the same.

”As a referee, you’re not doing it for the pay, you’re doing it for the love of the sport,” Assemblyman William Conrad said. “A lot of folks I worked with as a wrestling coach, they came back because they love the sport of wrestling, they love the game of rugby or baseball. They want to make sure the game is played safely. I’ve seen people get chased to their cars, people with lawn chairs folded up trying to swing at them. This is getting out of hand.”

The industry is also facing a worker shortage. State ice hockey officials say they went from 2,100 officials pre-pandemic to 1,300. The shortage is also causing games to be postponed or even canceled.