The death of volunteer youth soccer referee Ricardo Portillo, who died Saturday from injuries allegedly sustained from a punch to the head from a 17-year-old player during a recreational game in Taylorsville, sparked a national conversation.
The Salt Lake Tribune continued that conversation Tuesday afternoon during the newspaper’s live online chat, Trib Talk.
“Somewhere along the line...[officials] are viewed as an evil force that can only harm a team’s ability to win,” said Tribune columnist Kurt Kragthorpe, who along with Dan Gould of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University, offered their opinions and insights to Trib Talk host Jennifer Napier-Pearce.
Topics discussed ranged from how sportsmanship should be taught to whether legislation should be sought to protect officials.
Gould related a story about a young man who umpired one youth baseball game and decided not to continue.
“‘I refereed one game and the parents yelled at me, so why should I do it again,’” said Gould, adding the umpire was probably being paid about $20.
“If [violent behavior] is inappropriate in society, just because it’s a sport, it shouldn’t be treated any differently,” Gould continued. “People have this myth, if you play sports you’re going to end up a better person ... We have to make an effort to make it good for the kids.”
Napier-Pearce also offered a comment from Pete McCabb, a youth football official from New York who was assaulted three years ago and had all the bones in his face broken. McCabb supported a law making it a felony to attack an official.
“Referees need protection,” Kragthorpe said. “Legislation like that has merit.”
Gould and Kragthorpe agreed that the emotion that surrounds sports on every level has gotten out of control.
“There’s too much of an emotional fever surrounding these arenas,” Kragthorpe said. “The past 10 years or so, fans who buy a ticket thinks it’s a license to become involved in the sporting event.”