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Defy U.S. Soccer: Wear a cap, ref!

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By Mike Woitalla

It’s 99 degrees Fahrenheit and not a cloud in the sky at one of these wonderful American soccer complexes — with eight fields hosting scores of youth games all day long. Many, if not most, of the refs are working multiple games throughout the four-day event.

Even the bald refs and the ones with thin hair do not wear caps. I start asking them why they don’t protect their scalps. All of them say they’re forbidden to wear caps.

One of the referees, a fair-skinned man with very little hair on a scalp caked in sunscreen, said, “I wish I could wear a cap. It would also be good to cut down glare.”

I venture to the refs’ tent — where indeed a couple guys are applying sunscreen to their pates — and find the referee coordinator. I ask him if it’s true that he doesn’t allow the refs to wear caps.

“Yes,” he says. “We’re not supposed to. The Federation doesn’t want us to.”

This dangerous notion that refs can’t wear caps was addressed poignantly by Randy Vogt in his article for Soccer America last April: “The Skin Cancer Dilemma for Refs.”

Vogt, who has refereed for nearly four decades, wrote that: “The only regret that I have during this time is that I did not wear a black baseball cap when I started.”

Two years ago he had surgery for two types of skin cancer on his scalp.

Since Vogts’ article, I have surveyed many refs from recreational on up, and they are nearly unanimous in being under the impression that they aren’t allowed to wear caps.

It sounds absurd, of course, that the governing body of soccer in this country would deny referees — people who are so integral to the sport — a simple way to protect themselves from potentially deadly skin cancer. So I queried Rick Eddy, U.S. Soccer’s Director of Referee Development, and received via e-mail this response:

“U.S. Soccer’s position on wearing caps is referees are not allowed to wear caps. Have you ever seen a referee at the international or professional level [wear a cap]? I never have.”

So referees across the USA are risking skin cancer because the guys doing Champions League night games or reffing one game a week in the EPL, La Liga or Bundesliga don’t wear caps?

He’s right, though. I haven’t seen high-level soccer refs wear caps. And there was a time when I wouldn’t have seen people put their toddlers in car safety seats or screw smoke detectors on their ceilings.

When I’ve asked refs and their bosses why soccer refs don’t or shouldn’t wear caps, the most common responses match Eddy’s that pro refs don’t, or that “it doesn’t look professional,” or that it’s “tradition” not to wear a cap.

Tradition is a feeble excuse for doing anything that’s dangerous to one’s health.

Doesn’t look professional? The umpires and refs in baseball, football, tennis and cricket all wear caps — and of all the disrespect they get from players, coaches and fans, I have never heard that their headwear prompted it.

There is simply no reason why a soccer ref should not be allowed to wear a well-fitted, all-black or all-white, no-logos, baseball cap.

The pluses: prevent skin cancer; cut out glare — especially for the ARs, who are often looking north-south.

The negatives: zero.

So don’t wait around for U.S. Soccer or your local ref coordinator to give you the OK. Put a cap on if you need the protection. Last time I checked there was a ref shortage. You’ve got some clout.

Take it from Joe Machnik. You know him recently for providing Fox Sports with expert referee analysis during this summer’s Women’s World Cup. He is also one of the most renowned refs in American soccer history.

He is also fortunate to be alive, a melanoma survivor who required skin-grafting, 50 stitches and plastic surgery.

To be clear, Machnik says that he also didn’t wear a cap when he coached and worked his soccer camps. Back then, people didn’t know how dangerous the sun could be to our unprotected skin. We know now.

Says Machnik, “I don’t see a downside to referees wearing caps.”

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