Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Youth Soccer League Referee Dies a Week After Being Punched by Player

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Folks, some things just should not ever happen.  Period.

Take the case of the recent death of youth soccer league referee Ricardo Portillo, 46.  He gave a yellow card — a caution — to a seventeen-year-old goalie playing in a game on April 27, 2013, in a Utah recreational soccer league.  The goalie was so incensed at getting a yellow card, he punched Portillo in the head.  Portillo initially thought everything was OK, but then needed assistance to stand.  After that, according to this article from Yahoo Sports’ blog Prep Rally, written by Cameron Smith:

Portillo then sat down on the field and began vomiting blood, eliciting panicked calls for an emergency ambulance at the field.

This article from the Christian Science Monitor goes into a few more details:

When police arrived around noon, the teenager was gone and Portillo was laying on the ground in the fetal position. Through translators, Portillo told EMTs that his face and back hurt and he felt nauseous. He had no visible injuries and remained conscious. He was considered to be in fair condition when they took him to the Intermountain Medical Center.

But when Portillo arrived to the hospital, he slipped into a coma with swelling in his brain.

Worse yet, Portillo had previously been attacked by doing what he loved — refereeing soccer.  Even though Portillo’s family “begged” him to quit refereeing, he refused.  According to Portillo’s daughter, as quoted by the article in the Christian Science Monitor:

“It was his passion,” she said. “We could not tell him no.”

The article from Prep Rally explains what’s happened to the seventeen-year-old goalie thus far:

The goalie in question has since been booked into juvenile detention on suspicion of aggravated assault, though he could face additional charges now that Portillo has died. There has also been an ongoing debate about whether to charge the teen as an adult, despite the fact that he is 17 and not 18-years-old.

But lest you think this is an isolated incident, think again.  The Prep Rally article — truly a must read — goes further, discussing the instances of violence against referees at youth games of all sorts, including attacks by parents, players, and most disturbingly of all, coaches.

Deaths like Portillo’s are incredibly distressing.  Here’s a guy just trying to do the best job he can, refereeing a youth soccer game in a recreational game.  Yet he gets punched in the head by a player, slips into a coma, and dies in a week.

All because Portillo was doing what he loved.

Look.  If you have anger management problems, go see a counselor and discuss it.  But do not — do not — take them onto the field with you.  Your anger should not result in the death of an innocent man.

And while the seventeen-year-old didn’t intend to kill Portillo, he should be charged with Portillo’s death and be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  That won’t bring Portillo back, of course.  But it may give some comfort to Portillo’s family, all while reminding players, parents and coaches the world over that life and death are far more important than any mere game.

Bare minimum, everyone who has children in any youth league needs to read Cameron Smith’s last paragraph from today’s Prep Rally column:

One can only hope that the lessons from this attack — and the subsequent jail time that the teen in question is likely to serve — will provide ample deterrent for future athletes and parents who struggle to contain their emotions in the midst of what is just a game, even if similar incidents in the past haven’t succeeded in doing so.

Smith’s words cannot be improved upon.  But I wish they’d not have had to be written.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

May 5, 2013 at 3:24 pm

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