The death of Ricardo Portillo, a 46-year-old Salt Lake area community soccer referee who died days after he was punched in the face during a recreational league game by a soccer player, 17, is a tragedy and a criminal act. According to news reports, the family of Portillo, worried for his safety, had begged him earlier to quit officiating.
Violence at any sporting event must never be tolerated. In organizational sports, referees, umpires or other officials should be treated -- during the game -- as law enforcement personnel. They prevent melees, violence, even boorish behavior. In other words, they are sacred. They demand protection. They must not be harmed. Those who harm the officials, even once, should never be allowed back to play. If deemed necessary, anyone attacking a referee should be charged with the appropriate criminal offense.
However, merely observing laws protecting referees and enforcing those laws is not enough. Adults, particularly coaches and parents, must set an example of sportsmanship in recreational leagues, particularly in team sports, where passions tend to be higher. To those who are role models -- whether they like it or not -- what are we teaching kids about sportsmanship, or about enjoying sports, if we take a contentious attitude at the local playground, park, or high school?
Parents must be good examples when observing their children in sporting leagues. If they bring contention or threats to an event, they should be swiftly ejected by appropriate officials. The humiliation of being thrown out would be a good object lesson for youngsters.
In the major leagues, such as the NBA, in which the games actually have huge monetary and career consequences, once a player shoves an official, that player is ejected, fined and suspended ... no matter the "star" status. It's ridiculous that young athletes, or anyone else involved with a game, can engage in similar boorish and violent behavior. There should be no tolerance, ever, for violence in sports.