Could this be the turning point in American sports that finally gets athletes and fans off the backs of the officials? Probably not, unfortunately. Salt Lake City volunteer soccer ref Ricardo Portillo, 46, died on Saturday after being in a coma for a week after being punched in the head by a teen soccer player during a match.
As we wrote last week, Portillo was officiating a recreation league soccer game in Salt Lake City when he was punched in the head by a player who disagreed with a call. Portillo had issued a yellow card to the player, a goalie, who then allegedly blindsided him with the blow as Portillo was writing in a notebook, said police.
Portillo was in a coma for a week before succumbing to his injury on Saturday night. The player is still in juvenile custody and may be charged with murder.
“You would just love him when you met him. He was outgoing, a happy person, he never had bad feelings for anybody,” Johana Portillo-Lopez said of her father. A funeral service is planned for Wednesday afternoon. Portillo’s body will be returned to Mexico for burial, as per his final wish, his daughter said.
About three dozen family and friends — most wearing bright white shirts — gathered in front of the Portillo family’s Salt Lake City home Sunday evening to remember the man they loved. Flowers and candles encircled a framed photograph of Portillo, his arms thrown into the air as if he were celebrating a victory on the field.
While there is only one other known case of a referee being killed by a player — a volunteer referee was beaten to death in Queens, N.Y., in 1988 — attacks on officials seems to be on the rise. In 2012, a 43-year-old soccer ref was punched in the head by two 30-something players during a game in Clearwater, Fla. — attacks on refs in the U.S. is unfortunately fairly commonplace.
In 2012 two adult players punched a soccer ref during a Clearwater, FL, recreational league game, causing the ref to be sent to the hospital to get stitches. Also in 2012, a DeSoto County, FL, high school basketball ref was attacked by a player after issuing a technical foul.
The Portillo attack occurred the same week that Indonesian pro soccer player Pieter Rumaropen was banned for life for punching a ref in an Indonesian Football League game. The ref was taken to the hospital and needed stitches.