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Senseless Tragedy in Utah


The evil at work on that soccer field revealed a lack of self-control, rage, and the inability to display any type of sportsmanship

Many of us wonder what amount of rage would cause a 17-year-old teenager to punch a referee on the side of his head. Was the rage solely caused by the referee’s issuance of a yellow card, or warning, in a soccer game?  

Let’s face it. There are many excitable people on the sidelines at American school sporting events. One can catch me any Sunday afternoon shouting and cheering during my daughter’s lacrosse game, where I play the role of armchair coach. I am not alone, of course.  There are a number of equally excited, and excitable, parents cheering right beside me.

I fear, however, that the tragedy in Utah reveals an evil pattern at work.  Ricardo Portillo worked as a referee as a second job. A father of girls, his family was preparing for his youngest daughter’s birthday.  Sadly, his daughters feared for his safety and were concerned about the very thing that happened to their father.  An uncontrollable teenager struck their father, ultimately causing his death.  

This was not Portillo’s first encounter with violence on the soccer field. Several years ago, a player broke his ribs and in another incident, a player broke his leg. Both times, players were displeased with Portillo’s call during a game.

The facts are still evolving but we know that after Portillo was initially struck, he felt dizzy and began to vomit. He was rushed to the hospital and slipped into a coma. We also know that this teen, his identity protected due to his age, disappeared after the incident, but his father had the good sense to bring him to the police station. Initially held in a juvenile detention center on assault charges, the events have quickly turned assault to a homicide, most likely, involuntary manslaughter.  

Ricardo Portillo died Saturday night, one week after an angry teenage player punched him in the head. (Image source: KSL-TV)

While no one likes to rush to judgment, as a mom, I can’t help think, “what type of home did this child grow up in to make him assault a referee?”  What type of pent up rage would force a young man to inflict such harm just because a call didn’t go in his favor? I often talk with other moms about this generation of children who expect a trophy just for showing up at the soccer game, although they did not win the championship!  We try to limit television screen time, video games, and take a pass on the Super Bowl commercials.  Many parents recognize the influence of violence in our society, but the question remains – how do we minimize the impact on our children?

One day, my children and I visited a dear friend.  She is the mother of two Marines who have grown into responsible, smart, and engaging gentlemen. As she observed my daughter and son playing with her new puppy, she gently reminded me that one of the biggest struggles for growing boys is to learn discipline and self-control. She assured me, as I watched my sweet little 5 year old boy, that tougher days are ahead for me.

The evil at work on that soccer field revealed a lack of self-control, rage, and the inability to display any type of sportsmanship. It may be months before we know the motives behind his actions, but on that day, two lives were destroyed – over a warning issued at a soccer game.


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