Barry Mano, President of the National Association of Sports Officials and Publisher of Referee magazine, has unique insights into the tragic death of Michigan soccer referee John Bieniewicz, who died Tuesday following an alleged assault at the hands of a player on Sunday. The following is his column that will appear in an upcoming issue of the magazine.
Searching for a Red Card
There are days you just want to stop. You want to say: “The hell with all of this.” Tuesday, July 1, was one of them. That is when we received word that John Bieniewicz, a much respected Michigan soccer official, had died from a blow to the head delivered by a player on the cusp of ejection. John reportedly never saw the punch coming. He was looking down in the process of pulling out his red card. Sadly, the last thing he might have seen in this life is that red card.
Only one year earlier all of us in this industry found ourselves in a similar state of shock, sadness and anger over the death of soccer referee Ricardo Portillo in Utah. The facts of that case are utterly similar to what just took place in Michigan. Copycat events, both with the same horror for an ending.
The Portillo case was stark and it led to the media’s endeavor to tell the story. We did an in-depth feature on it in our August 2013 issue. In the July 2013 issue, I devoted my monthly Publisher’s Memo to the tragedy of Ricardo Portillo. I just reread that piece, and frankly, I could just change Ricardo Portillo and John Bieniewicz and run that Memo here and now without changing another word. How pathetic is that?
On May 21, 2013, HBO Real Sports aired a program on the Portillo matter. TV correspondent Jon Frankel and crew came to Racine to film. We spent much of the day together. They shot more than three hours of film. During my interview, Frankel asked me a question I was not expecting. He asked if I thought another sports official would suffer the same fate as Ricardo Portillo. I remember taking a breath and looking upward. Watching it now it seems as if a part of me wanted to not answer or to answer in the negative. My answer was, “Yes.” And, sadly, I have been proven right about something I wish with every bone in my body I would have been proven wrong.
So, ask me that question again today. Let me answer and do so without taking a breath or looking skyward. The answer is that it will happen again. It will happen because society has chosen to be loud, brash, unforgiving and upbraiding. We are choosing to not respect authority. We are choosing to surround ourselves with celluloid violence — smash, pow, bam! At seemingly every turn we choose to turn the volume up instead of down. We want our way. We will not accept someone showing a yellow card or a red card to us.
What has happened to playing sports with honor? The focus has become how to game the game, game the referees, game the system. Let’s flop. Let’s constantly berate the official. Let’s never accept defeat with dignity. Give me a call I don’t like and I am going to smash you in the side of the head.
Tell you what, we can pontificate all we want about the need for security and the need for education of participants in sports. Homily only. If folks think we officials can protect them from themselves, they are sadly mistaken. Sports is life with the volume turned up. Those of us who referee have little sway over the loudness. So, just what did you expect would happen that day in Livonia, Mich.?
Contact: Matt Moore
NASO Press Liaison
Referee Enterprises, Inc.
The National Association of Sports Officials is the world’s largest organization for sports officials at every level and all sports. More than 20,000 sports officials from around the world belong to NASO, enjoying member benefits and supporting an organization that advocates for sports officials and that helps them maintain the highest level of officiating skills.
Referee is a magazine written from an officiating perspective since 1976. Referee is the journal of record for officiating and takes informed positions on selected issues.