NORMAN — The football teams were still on the field, exchanging the traditional postgame handshakes, when Pete McCabe walked by. The veteran referee heard another official call his name and turned, only to be smashed in the face with a helmet by one of the players.
Almost every bone in McCabe’s face was broken, his skull fractured in several places and his nose nowhere close to where it belonged. As he lay on the ground in Rochester, N.Y., the semipro player who assaulted him stood over him yelling, “Take that. Take that. This is what I’m all about.”
“I have said since this happened to me that it’s going to happen again,” McCabe said, “and someone is going to get killed.”
McCabe was sickened when he heard the news that Ricardo Portillo had died Saturday, a week after the youth soccer referee in Utah had been punched in the head by a 17-year-old player angry over a yellow card. Just as Portillo’s family is now pleading for athletes to control their tempers, McCabe has spent the last four years preaching the importance of sportsmanship in and around Rochester.
“There’s no respect for officials now,” McCabe said Monday. “Go look at any game, and they’re yelling at the official. Pick a high school event and go watch a couple of games. I guarantee you, you’ll see a coach get out of control on the sideline. Or a parent. Or a kid. It’s so rampant.
“What happened in Utah, I knew it was going to happen. It was just a matter of time,” he said. “Whether it was New York state, Massachusetts, Florida, it was going to happen somewhere in this country.”
Several Dutch teens are awaiting trial in the beating death late last year of a volunteer linesman who was working his son’s youth soccer game. In Brazil last month, a referee was kicked in the chest after the final whistle of a third-division match of the Sao Paulo state championship. A Spanish soccer player was banned for three months last year after throwing a plastic water bottle at a referee. Also last year, a soccer player in New Zealand was banned indefinitely after he punched a referee and broke his jaw.
And at hockey’s Under-18 World Championships in Estonia last month, a Lithuanian player hurled his stick at a referee, hitting him in the upper body.
“Part of this isn’t a sport problem, part of it is a societal problem,” said Dan Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State. “You watch TV, and the trash talking that’s accepted. If you’re famous, you’re almost supposed to get into trouble. Why is everyone infatuated with Lindsay Lohan when she seems like a spoiled brat?”