Posted on July 7, 2014

‘It Will Happen Again,’ Says Sports Official on Violent Death of Soccer Referee

Khalil AlHajal, MLive, July 3, 2014

The death of a Westland man who was assaulted during a Sunday soccer match has captured national attention, and the head of a referees’ group is speaking out on the matter–again.

Barry Mano, president of the Wisconsin-based National Association of Sports Officials has spoken at length on the violent death of a soccer referee once before, after Ricardo Portillo was punched by a teenage player and died a week later near Salt Lake City, Utah in 2013.

Mano was asked during an HBO interview last year whether he believed such an incident would ever happen again.

“My answer was ‘Yes.’ And, sadly, I have been proven right about something I wish with every bone in my body I would have been proven wrong,” Mano wrote in a column to be published in Referee magazine.

This time, the victim was John Bieniewicz, a 44-year-old dialysis technician at Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.

Police believe Bassel Saad, 36, of Dearborn, punched Bieniewicz after growing angry when the referee signaled for his ejection during a soccer match at Mies Park on West Chicago Street in Livonia around noon Sunday.


Baseel Abdul-Amir Saad

Baseel Abdul-Amir Saad

In a 911 recording released Wednesday, a witness told dispatchers Bieniewicz’s attacker knocked him unconscious and ran with another man to a Jeep Wrangler, peeling out of the parking lot while bystanders attempted to perform CPR on the referee.


“There are days you just want to stop,” Mano wrote. “You want to say: ‘The hell with all of this.’ Tuesday, July 1, was one of them. That is when we received word that John Bieniewicz, a much respected Michigan soccer official, had died from a blow to the head delivered by a player on the cusp of ejection. John reportedly never saw the punch coming. He was looking down in the process of pulling out his red card. Sadly, the last thing he might have seen in this life is that red card.”


Mano doesn’t believe it will be the last time a referee is killed on a soccer field.

“It will happen again,” he wrote. “It will happen because society has chosen to be loud, brash, unforgiving and upbraiding. We are choosing to not respect authority. We are choosing to surround ourselves with celluloid violence–smash, pow, bam! At seemingly every turn we choose to turn the volume up instead of down. We want our way. We will not accept someone showing a yellow card or a red card to us . . . If folks think we officials can protect them from themselves, they are sadly mistaken. Sports is life with the volume turned up. Those of us who referee have little sway over the loudness. So, just what did you expect would happen that day in Livonia, Mich.?”