Death of Volunteer Soccer Referee Reminds Us—It’s Just a Game

May 7th, 2013

On Saturday, volunteer soccer referee Ricardo Portillo died from a punch to the head by a 17-year-old angry because Portillo called a penalty against him.

While I’m saddened  by this event, I’m not surprised.

My two sons play a variety of sports—football, basketball, baseball, and track.  Over the years, I’ve witnessed every form of bad sportsmanship imaginable from both players and parents.  It didn’t really matter the ages of the children or the sport.

Last year, for example, I attended a basketball tournament with my then 10-year-old son.  In one game, two mothers were ejected for hurling abusive insults at the referee.  In another game, a sheriff’s deputy waited at the door of the gymnasium to arrest one of the coaches on the opposing team.  Evidently, the head coach convinced the officer to wait to make the arrest until after the game.  I don’t know what the alleged offense was, but just knowing that a coach on the other team would be handcuffed at any minute was a bit disconcerting.

All sports are bad in this regard, but baseball seems to be the worst.  Perhaps it’s the proximity of the crowd to the umpire, but not a game goes by that parents on both teams don’t shout nasty abusive things at the umpire.  What a wonderful example we’re setting for our children. Small wonder that one of them would one day feel somehow entitled to punch a referee.

Let’s face it.  The people who agree to referee youth sports are either volunteers or are paid very little.  For the most part, they do it because they love the game.  Clearly, they will make lots of mistakes.  If they were perfect, they’d be in Major League not Little League baseball.  Well almost . . . even the professional umpires make mistakes.

I’ve noticed that when it comes to youth sports, good parents can become bad parents very quickly.  It’s quite frankly disgusting.

The other part of this equation is the kids themselves.  Since when is it okay to punch anyone for anything?

What I see now are kids who enjoy violence in video games on a daily basis. In the imaginary world the video game designer creates, people who are shot and killed one minute can stand up and play again the next.  Clearly, that’s not so in the real world.  Punch someone in the head, and he just might die.  The 17-year-old who punched Portillo learned this and will continue to learn it the rest of his life.

The volunteer soccer coach who coached the 17-year-old player made the following observation after the event, “I think we need to teach our kids that in a split second things can change a life.  We need to talk to our kids about being non-violent.  Talk to them about sportsmanship.  Talk to them about respecting referees. This, across the board impacts every one of us.”

Those are great sentiments, but I wonder how much of that he actually put in practice before this tragedy happened.

Hopefully, we’ll all learn something from this event and in “all” I mean players and their loud mouthed parents.



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