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Youth Boys May 07, 2013

Senseless tragedy as Utah referee is killed by teenage player

Referee rage is an ugly and growing stain on youth and recreational sports in the United States, and the latest incident of the phenomenon led to a man’s death in Utah over the weekend.

Ricardo Portillo, a 46-year-old husband and father, was confronted and punched in the face by a 17-year-old goalkeeper following the recreational soccer match he was refereeing in Taylorsville, Utah on April 27. He had awarded the goalkeeper a yellow card during the game.

Portillo tried to shake off the blow, but complained of dizziness and nausea and vomited blood soon after. He was taken to a nearby hospital in fair condition, but soon fell into a coma due to severe brain swelling and passed away over the weekend.

The suspect — whose identity has not been revealed due to his juvenile status — left the scene after the game but was subsequently tracked down by police and willingly entered police custody. He is being held under suspicion of aggravated assault and may face further charges due to Portillo’s death.

This sad episode has again drawn attention to the growing threats of violence and intimidation being dished out to referees, as even youth sports grows more intense and emotional.

Washington, D.C. area news/talk radio station WTOP notes that similar such incidents are all too common in soccer leagues across the region, while an in-depth AP story highlights the decay of sportsmanship in society at large.

“Part of this isn’t a sport problem, part of it is a societal problem,” Dan Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State, told AP’s Nancy Armour. “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?

“Most Americans really want their kids to learn values through sports. And research has found we can teach kids to be good sports and enhance their moral development through sports if it’s done correctly,” Gould added. “But the big myth is it just happens.”

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