Why Referees and Umpires Are At Risk for TBI

Athletes are always at risk for traumatic brain injuries, particularly concussions. Turns out, however, that it’s not just the players who are in danger. Check out these horrifying true stories of adults behaving badly, and the referees and umpires who suffer the consequences.

Assaults to the head or neck can cause serious injury, disability, paralysis, even death. Those who survive traumatic brain injury (TBI) can suffer neurologically for the rest of their lives.

Wanted: Protective Head Gear For Soccer Referees

In San Francisco, an adult-league soccer referee suffered serious injuries after being sucker-punched by a player he had penalized. The punch broke the 33-year-old’s jaw, loosened some teeth, and caused a traumatic brain injury. The player who coldcocked the ref fled before police arrived.

Golden Gate, Florida, was the scene of the attack on Sergio Pomajambo. The referee was knocked unconscious after being head-butted twice by adult soccer player Alain Perez. Perez was charged with felony battery and has been banned from any U.S. Soccer-affiliated team.

At San Francisco’s Crocker Amazon Playground, an angry soccer player performed a martial arts kick to a referee’s face following a foul call. The referee was knocked out and taken to the hospital but fortunately did not suffer any serious injuries.

Serious Head Trauma Is Potentially Fatal

John Bieniewicz, a 44-year-old soccer referee from Livonia, Michigan, died two days after being punched in the head by a player he had ejected. The player, Bassel Saad, fled the scene but later turned himself over to the authorities. Facing second-degree murder charges, he pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and received eight to 15 years in prison.

In suburban Salt Lake City, a 46-year-old recreational soccer referee is dead. After calling a foul on a 17-year-old player for shoving an opponent, Ricardo Portillo was punched in the head and knocked out. He remained in a coma for one week before succumbing to the severe brain swelling.

Soccer Officials Aren’t the Only Ones at Risk

When Newark Little League umpire Robert Waters called a game due to darkness, he was attacked by Coach Henry Milstrey and 16 players. The umpire suffered a fractured skull, lost teeth, and hearing loss, and Milstrey pleaded guilty to third-degree aggravated assault.

Saivaauli Savaiineea, a youth football coach in San Diego, was arrested on suspicion of felony battery after he attacked another Mark Cannon for allegedly trying to recruit one of his players. Following their game, Savaiineea a punched and kicked Cannon, who was knocked unconscious when his head hit the concrete.

When Rice played Tulane in basketball, the team’s mascot got involved. “Sammy the Owl” was ejected after head-butting the referee. Fortunately, the mascot’s uniform prevented any serious injuries from occurring.

Contact sports aren’t only dangerous for players, they can lead to traumatic brain injuries and far worse for referees. The same protocol must be followed when diagnosing a concussion or trauma to the head for referees as for athletes, but serious changes must also be made to ensure the safety of the impartial parties on the field.

About: David Christensen is a personal injury attorney with offices located in Southfield, MI and Ann Arbor, Michigan. David represents victims who have been sustained traumatic brain injuries in sports related accidents.