Sports Officials Group Speaks Out After Referee’s Death

A soccer referee died in Salt Lake City after he was punched in the head by a player angered by a call. The leader of the National Association of Sports Officials tries to make sense of it.

Sports can bring out the absolute best in people—and the absolute worst. On May 3, the world was issued another cautionary tale of the latter in the death of Ricardo Portillo.

His yellow card, which might have been the very last thing in his consciousness, is a yellow card for the rest of us in officiating.

Portillo, a 46-year-old referee, spent a week in a coma and died Saturday after being punched in the head by a 17-year-old soccer player who was angry that the official had issued him a yellow card in a game held in Salt Lake City.

“His yellow card, which might have been the very last thing in his consciousness, is a yellow card for the rest of us in officiating,” Barry Mano, president of the National Association of Sports Officials, told USA Today. “We need to be reminded that some serious stuff can take place out there.”

Mano told The New York Times that since NASO was founded in 1980, sports officials have faced increasingly dangerous conditions, which has led to more insurance specifically against assault. The association is lobbying to make the assault on a sports official more than a misdemeanor, USA Today reported.

“It wasn’t on anyone’s radar,” Mano told The Times. “But now it’s part and parcel of what we do, and not a week goes by where we don’t get at least two or three calls with reports of officials being assaulted.”

Mano and others blame a lack of sportsmanship for the rise in violence against referees and other sports officials. “Part of this isn’t a sport problem, part of it is a societal problem,” said Dan Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State, according to an Associated Press report. “You watch TV, and the trash-talking that’s accepted. If you’re famous, you’re almost supposed to get into trouble. Why is everyone infatuated with Lindsay Lohan when she seems like a spoiled brat?”

Authorities in Salt Lake City are deciding whether to file criminal charges against the teenage soccer player, who has not been identified because he’s a minor.


Daniel Ford

By Daniel Ford

Daniel Ford is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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