Question:
I refereed a Girls 17 game when out of my line of sight, an attacking player hit a defensive player in the face. An player on the attacking team ran up to me and started to scream at me. She was about a foot away from me. I cautioned the player for dissent. After the game, I was talking to a National referee, and he said that what the player did was abusive language (no cursing involved) and that he would have given the player a red card. Did I make the right call? What is considered abusive language? Thank you for your help.

USSF answer (June 1, 2011):
Under the Law, a player is sent off for using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures. That incorporates the whole of human communication. “Liberty” must be defined within the context of the particular interaction. The Laws of the Game do not care which language a player, team official, referee or AR speaks. What is important under the Laws is what that person actually says or means or understands. None of that is necessarily language-dependent.

This excerpt from the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game” may be helpful:

“The referee should judge offensive, insulting, or abusive language according to its content (the specific
words or actions used), the extent to which the language can be heard by others beyond the immediate
vicinity of the player, and whether the language is directed at officials, opponents, or teammates. In
other words, the referee must watch for language that is Personal, Public, or Provocative. In evaluating
language as misconduct, the referee must take into account the particular circumstances in which the
actions occurred and deal reasonably with language that was clearly the result of a momentary
emotional outburst.

“Referees must take care not to inject purely personal opinions as to the nature of the language when
determining a course of action. The referee’s primary focus must be on the effective management of
the match and the players in the context of the overall feel for the Spirit of the Game.”

If you felt threatened or offended by the onslaught of language from the player, then the national referee was correct: the player should have been sent off for an infringement of the Law.