US football ref dies after being punched at match

John Bieniewicz was punched in the head while refereeing an adult-league football match in Detroit. Photo / Thinkstock
John Bieniewicz was punched in the head while refereeing an adult-league football match in Detroit. Photo / Thinkstock

A man who was punched in the head over the weekend while refereeing an adult-league football match in suburban Detroit died today, authorities and a longtime friend of the referee said.

John Bieniewicz, who was attacked Sunday at a park, died at Detroit Receiving Hospital, said hospital spokesman Alton Gunn, Livonia police and the man's longtime friend, Jim Acho.

Police said a 36-year-old man punched Bieniewicz in the head after the referee indicated he planned to eject the man from the game. Baseel Abdul-Amir Saad of Dearborn was arraigned yesterday on a charge of assault with intent to do great bodily harm. The Wayne County prosecutor's office said the charges would be reviewed and possibly amended when it had the necessary documentation.

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."

Acho, who ran a basketball camp with Bieniewicz for four years after high school, said his tall friend would "wow the kids with dunks."

But much to the surprise of his friends, Bieniewicz gravitated to football. He had been a well-respected referee for two decades.

Another friend, Anthony Arrington, said he would often seek Bieniewicz's advice when coaching his sons' youth soccer teams.

"We have a special bond," said Arrington, who added that Bieniewicz's passion for football spurred members of their group of friends to watch the World Cup in Brazil.

Bieniewicz was doing what he loved on Sunday when he was attacked, Acho said.

Saad was not at Mies Park when police arrived, but surrendered yesterday, Goralski said. At Saad's arraignment in Livonia District Court, bond was set at $500,000 and a probable-cause hearing was set for July 10.

Saad's lawyer, Brian Berry, said his client was cooperating with police and was not guilty of the charge.

Acho said a fund was being set up to help pay for his friend's funeral and burial expenses as well as his children's futures. Bieniewicz's organs were being donated, Acho said.

Violence is not unheard of in football and other sports.

Barry Mano the president and founder of National Association of Sports Officials, which has 21,000 dues-paying members in sports ranging from American football and soccer to rodeo and water polo said his group spends 20 percent of its time on assault and liability-related issues, up from around 3 percent 20 years ago.

In April 2013, a 17-year-old player punched referee Ricardo Portillo after being called for a foul during a soccer game in Utah, near Salt Lake City. Portillo, a father of three, died after a week in a coma. The teen pleaded guilty to a homicide charge.

It's part of a worrying trend, Mano said.

"We have trouble getting men and women and young people to come into refereeing. No duh. This is the reason why," he said.

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- AP

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