Almost from its first issue, Referee has dutifully published a news story or feature of an official being assaulted. They’re far from our favorite stories, but must be covered in the industry’s journal of record. And with every one, we’ve waited for the other shoe to drop.
In the spring of 2013, it did. With a resounding thud.
Seventeen-year-old Jose Domingo Teran assaulted Utah soccer referee Ricardo Portillo while Teran was being cautioned for rough play. Teran punched Portillo in the left rear of the referee’s head/jaw. Portillo reported feeling nauseous and he began spitting blood. He was transported to a local hospital and died a week later due to a traumatic brain injury.
The Referee editors wrestled with how the story should be handled. Was it a pure news story? A battle cry for more security for officials to prevent a repeat?
Turns out the story told itself. The tragedy of children suddenly deprived of their father. That father’s love of officiating. The outpouring of sympathy from fellow officials. And a warning that Portillo might have been the latest to lose his life on an American field but he most likely wouldn’t be the last. Sadly that premonition came to pass a year later when Michigan soccer referee John Bieniewicz was killed in a hauntingly similar manner.