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Tragedy in Michigan: Referee dies after being punched by player

Jul 2, 2014, 2:00 PM EST

john-bieniewicz AP

Just one day after The Guardian ran a comprehensive piece on the vibrant adult soccer scene in Detroit, there’s a tragic story coming out of the Michigan city’s suburbs.

Veteran referee John Bieniewicz has died as a result of injuries suffered from a punch to the head from a player during an over-30 men’s game on Sunday.

The 20-year referee was in the process of ejecting player Baseel Abdul-Amir Saad from a game when the player struck him in the head. Saad was “arraigned Monday on a charge of assault with intent to do great bodily harm.”

And so a men’s league game has led to the death of a father, husband and respected official.

From the Associated Press:

Bieniewicz, 44, was a dialysis technician at Mott Children’s Hospital who lived in the Detroit suburb of Westland with his wife and two sons, said Acho, who was a classmate of Bieniewicz’s at Catholic Central High School.

“I speak for all his friends when I say we are devastated. Crushed. Just a senseless way for a great guy to go out,” Acho said. “He deserved better.”

The incident, along with a similar death in Utah last year when a referee was killed by a teenage player, is raising concern about the safety of amateur sports.

“Never in my life did I think it would happen here,” Joseph Cosenza, a player in the game Sunday, told Fox 2 News in Detroit.

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

“You know, we all want to go and play, but the more I talk to friends, the more they say it’s not worth playing anymore, because this is starting to happen more and more often.”

These brutal stories are necessary to publicize, as the photo of the man and his family, if only to remind players, coaches and parents time and time again that real people are officiating and playing alongside you. It’s not a video game.

Our condolences to Bieniewicz’s family, friends and the entire Detroit soccer community.

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