American soccer ref dies after being punched during a match

Dirty Tackle
Referee killed in amateur soccer match.

John Bieniewicz

Referee killed in amateur soccer match.

An amateur soccer referee who was punched in the head while refereeing an adult-league soccer match on Sunday has died.

John Bieniewicz was refereeing an amateur match at a park in the Detroit suburbs when he was punched in the head by a player he'd attempted to eject from the match. Following the blow, Bieniewicz was left unconscious and not breathing on the field. He was taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital in critical condition. He passed away on Tuesday.

The 44-year-old Bieniewicz was a licensed referee who worked as a dialysis technician at Mott Children’s Hospital and lived with his wife and two sons in the Detroit suburb of Westland.

Bieniewicz, a 6-foot-5 high school athlete who lettered in basketball and football, gravitated towards soccer in his adult life and had spent two decades earning a reputation as a reliable and fair referee.

On a website dedicated to his memory, Bieniewicz was described as “a man who lived life to the fullest.”

“He had a passion for his family, a passion for the kids at Mott Children’s Hospital, and a passion for soccer. John died doing what he loved: Officiating a soccer game.”

Local police have charged the player who punched Bieniewicz, 36-year-old Baseel Abdul-Amir Saad of Dearborn, Michigan, with assault and intent to do great bodily harm.

Investigators expect the charges against Saad to be modified following Mr. Bieniewicz’s death.

Saad left Mies Park where the incident occurred before police arrived, waving his middle finger at spectators as he walked off. However he turned himself in Monday. His bond was set at $500,000 with a probable cause hearing scheduled for July 10.

Brian Berry, a lawyer for the accused, maintained that Saad was not guilty and was cooperating with police.

This incident follows closely on a similar event that occurred in Utah last year when another amateur referee was killed by a teenage soccer player.

“Never in my life did I think it would happen here,” said Joseph Cosenza a player in the game in which Bieniewicz was struck, speaking to Detroit’s Fox 2 News.

“All of that over a meaningless, know-nothing, over-30 men’s soccer league that, honestly, it’s not worth it.”

Violence against amateur soccer referees is unfortunately a worldwide phenomenon. Last year in Brazil, spectators killed, dismembered and decapitated a 20-year-old amateur ref after he stabbed a player. In 2012, a volunteer linesman in a match outside Amsterdam was beaten to death. In that case, six teenage players and the adult father of one of the boys were convicted of manslaughter.

What to Read Next