Originally Published: March 14, 2015 6 a.m.
A victim's family received some modicum of closure on Friday, and justice was served. But, a threat lives on.
A weekend adult soccer player on Friday was sentenced to eight years in prison for killing a Detroit-area referee with a punch last summer. The death of John Bieniewicz was "senseless, meaningless," his wife told the judge Friday, per The Associated Press. "All because of a call on a soccer field. It's a game. It's a game that we teach our kids as soon as they can walk."
The lunatic who threw the punch, a 37-year-old man, pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and admitted that he punched his victim after Bieniewicz was about to eject him.
Recreation referees are easy targets for those with a short fuse caught up in the heat of a moment. While fatalities are thankfully rare, violence toward refs isn't, Barry Mano, president of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), told Fox News in May of 2013, more than year before the punch that killed Bieniewicz even happened.
"Referees have been bumped, pushed, knocked down, sent to the hospital, hit with chairs," he said of violence at recreational games. "We've had a number of incidents where officials are leaving a tough contest and they're accosted in the parking lot. You don't get to smack somebody because you felt you were wronged."
According to the NASO, 21 states currently have officiating assault laws (including 19 with criminal laws and two with civil statutes), 16 with limited liability legislation, and 14 states with independent contractor laws.
Arizona is not among those states, but we're hardly immune to violence in rec sports. Remember that as recently as 2012, nine people from the Prescott Valley Youth Football and Cheer Association were suspended after a brawl that erupted at a youth football game in Wickenburg.
Laws won't always prevent morons from acting out. They could be used as a deterrent, or at least would offer specific punitive damages to prevent said morons from finding themselves in a similar circumstance where they have demonstrated they have no personal control.
Next time you're at a recreation game, thank a ref. And more importantly, have their back.
- Steve Stockmar, sports editor