On April 27, while refereeing a youth match at Eisenhower Junior High School in Taylorville, Ricardo Portillo was attacked by the goalkeeper of one of the teams. Portillo issued a yellow card to the goalkeeper for pushing a forward of the opposing team. The 17-year-old goalkeeper in retaliation attacked Portillo by punching him in the head. Portillo began vomiting blood and was rushed to a hospital, where he slipped into a coma and died on Saturday.
The incident has brought into focus what many amateur sports fans say is a growing trend; players not showing respect to sports officials and reacting extremely violently when they feel bad calls have been made. The National Association of Sports Officials stated that over the recent past physical assaults on match officials has drastically increased. The president of the group, Barry Mano, said that "It's been a serious concern of ours ever since this association started." He added that in the past, "referees have been bumped, pushed, knocked down, sent to the hospital, hit with chairs … we've had a number of incidents where officials are leaving a tough contest and they’re accosted in the parking lot. You don’t get to smack somebody because you felt you were wronged."
While verbal abuse directed at referees has always been an issue for footballing countries across the globe, physical violence against referees is much more visible in the U.S., across Latin American countries and in specific European countries.
The European game has attempted to set a precedent by allowing referees to book (give a yellow card) players that show indiscretion towards them during the match. Two yellow cards lead to a dismissal (a red card), and on numerous instances referees have used the new regulations to discharge players from the game. However, in the heat of the moment, the way players react to decisions by officials is beyond the control of any regulatory body.
Violence against match officials in the U.S. has been on the rise. A 43-year-old referee was seriously injured after he was punched in the back of the head by two angry soccer players after making a call during a game in Clearwater, Florida, in July of last year. In another Florida game, 41-year-old referee Jayme Ream was reportedly attacked in 2011 by coaches and players from the Sarasota Gators football team ... a felony in Florida. Last week, a New Jersey parent was arrested and charged with assault after he slapped a 17-year-old Little League umpire.
There is only one other known case of a referee death in the U.S., according to Mano. Gregory Vaughn, a 33-year-old high school basketball coach and volunteer referee, was shot and killed in Queens, N.Y., on July 30, 1988, after he made a call someone disagreed with.
For now, the culprit in Portillo's death is being held at a juvenile detention facility but no official charges have been filed against him yet. Charges are expected to be filed early next week.