Earlier this month, Air Force veteran and Indiana high school volleyball official Jim Saddler was suspended by the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) following his decision to walk out of a match when one player knelt for the national anthem.
Saddler told the IndyStar that IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox suspended him or the rest of this season and through next year’s winter sports season in response to his actions. Originally Cox declined to comment on the situation, other than to confirm the suspension.
On Wednesday, he gave a detailed statement to the Stateline Sports Network:
Recently the IHSAA suspended a licensed official for failure to meet contractual obligations during a contest. The incident was reported to the IHSAA and subsequently discussed among the staff. A consistent penalty was administered to this independent contractor as previously determined over several unacceptable behaviors displayed from other licensed officials.
The official in question in this most recent incident chose to request a meeting with the Commissioner to discuss the matter. This meeting was granted. The official pleaded his case to the Commissioner. The meeting lasted approximately 30 minutes. At the end of the meeting, the Commissioner reaffirmed the penalty. That penalty, which has been misreported in the media, is a suspension of the official’s licensure with the IHSAA through the 2018-19 volleyball season. Compared to the calendar, that suspension will conclude on November 3, 2018.
In the letter of suspension sent to the official, it clearly states that the official has an opportunity to appeal this determination to the IHSAA Review Committee. Rather than seek an appeal before the Committee, this official chose to contact the media to plead his case. The theme of the article centered on the official’s service as a member of the United States Air Force. The IHSAA congratulates and appreciates this individual for his service to our country. This was not why he was suspended. This official walked out of a gymnasium, functioning as an independent contractor and not a service veteran, immediately prior to a contest between two member schools. His stated rationale was he could not work because a student athlete chose to kneel during the National Anthem. Immediately after the Anthem, the licensed official spoke to the Assistant Athletic Director and informed him he would not fulfill his contract.
Rules 3 and 8 of the IHSAA by-laws provides direct support to the member school and their Principal to provide direction and discipline, if necessary, to students representing the school in interscholastic athletics. Rule 14 provides the Commissioner the authority to license and suspend licenses at his discretion.
In this particular case, I felt the contest official placed two member schools and every other student athlete in a compromised position. Due to the acts of one student, this official disservices every other student and all parents and fans in attendance due to his reaction to not work. The suspension is congruent with similar incidents committed by other licensed officials. Typically, the next season is suspended from the offending official. Unfortunately, the IHSAA has suspended officials for a variety of behaviors detrimental to the discipline of officiating. Also, this gentleman is not the first official that also has served in our armed forces to be suspended. Continued acts of non compliance by licensed officials, US veterans or not will be handled in a similar manner.
Cox made it clear that Saddler’s punishment was determined based on other similar cases, and that Saddler chose to ignore his option to appeal the suspension to the IHSAA Review Committee, instead electing to go directly to the commissioner. Additionally, his suspension is shorter than originally reported, as it ends November 3rd, 2018.
Also of note: just after Saddler’s suspension, Cox made it clear in response to high school referees threatening to disqualify students who kneel that high school referees cannot do so. In that statement, he also cited IHSAA by-laws 3 and 8, which give member schools the authority assess their students’ conduct as they see fit.