Posted by: SWL | May 5, 2013

Utah Soccer Referee Dies After Attack by Teen Goalie

Life in the US is becoming more chaotic and scarier. Places and activities we think are relatively safe no longer are. More and more people are losing self-control and hurting others when things do not go the way they would like, even if they are wrong.

Case in point: a 46-year old soccer referee, Ricardo Portillo, died May 4 as the result of being punched in the side of the head by an irate youth player during a game in Taylorsville, Utah. The referee had issued a yellow card* to the 17-year old goalie for the foul of pushing an opponent with his hands. The “alleged” attack (proper journalistic lawsuit protection; there are plenty of witnesses to the incident, including the victim’s daughter) came while the referee was notating the player’s jersey number and infraction on the game card.

What could possibly have possessed this teenager to hit an adult hard enough to cause brain swelling, coma and ultimately death? This youth’s moment of rage has ended the life of a man in his prime (who was giving his time so kids could play), devastated Portillo’s daughters, and probably destroyed his own future. And why was this 17-year old so angry? He broke a rule and deserved the yellow card.*

My family has been involved with youth soccer for over 20 years: kids playing, a little coaching, refereeing, kids moving on as assistant coaches and refs when they got older. There have always been parents – and occasionally coaches – who set a bad example by criticizing coaches and referees. And players have always grumbled about the referees’ rulings. But in recent years we see players yelling at or cursing out referees to their faces.

More and more, I hear teens and young adults expressing that they should be allowed to do whatever they want without regard to others (i.e. anarchy). In soccer, they think their team should be allowed to violate the rules to gain an advantage. But, of course, if the opposing team does the same, the referee should call penalties. This “bipolar” attitude is not held by the majority of young people, but it seems invasive with some older Americans expressing similar ideas. If this selfishness is allowed to permeate our culture, we will have more violence in unexpected places. Are we going to permit (what is now) a small number of people who cannot or will not control themselves to stop us from volunteering or participating in family activities for fear of injury to ourselves or our children?

Solutions to this kind of behavior will be hard to find and implement. Just convincing many that we are seeing an attitude shift in society, not just isolated incidences, will be difficult. I usually have some suggestions for solutions, but here I am discouraged and at a loss.

Ricardo Portillo’s daughters are in my prayers. Actually, the perpetrator needs to be in my prayers too. I hope that after he is presumably convicted and finishes any imposed judgment, that he will get the help/rehabilitation that he needs to become a peaceful, productive member of society.

* Yellow cards are given for reckless play (usually a foul), a step above careless play which may bring a whistle or verbal warning. There is no punitive action taken against the player for a yellow card, although the opposing team is normally given possession of the ball. This incident might have been more understandable (not justifiable) if the goalie had been given a red card (for any second yellow card-level infraction or an excessive offense), since the player is ejected from the game and the team must play shorthanded.
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