Teens charged with killing referee after soccer game

Richard Nieuwenhuizen and family.

Richard Nieuwenhuizen, a referee, was shaking hands with youth soccer players after a match on Sunday in the Netherlands. He was then attacked from behind by three players from the Nieuw Sloten team. Two 16-year-olds and a 15-year-old knocked Nieuwenhuizen to the ground and proceeded to kick and punch him repeatedly in the head, neck and torso. After the incident was broken up, Nieuwenhuizen appeared to be alright. He went home and came back to the field later in the day to watch another match. According to witnesses, Nieuwenhuizen collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. He died Monday – prompting Dutch police to charge the three teens who attacked him the day before with manslaughter.

I know what you’re thinking. The Netherlands are halfway around the world. What does this have to do with anything going on in America? Granted, this case is the ultimate in referee disrespect and complete disregard for human life. However, I submit to you that referee disrespect is not thousands of miles way. It shows up every day on our ball fields, on our courts and in our homes. We would ground our kids until they retire if they repeated some of the things we say to and about game officials on a daily basis. Think about what you may have said or heard someone else say to or about a referee. Were there kids in earshot? I’ll let you in on a little secret. Even if you don’t think so, kids are always within earshot.

Kids are like DVRs – recording everything we say and do. Unfortunately, playback comes at the most inopportune time. Your favorite four-letter word is your kid’s favorite, too. Don’t believe me? Just ask his friends when he’s not around. Our kids believe us when we say the refs are cheating for the other team. They hear and believe the refs are blind, stupid, and other words that will not appear in this blog. We tell our kids they must respect other adults, but that only means adult family members, teachers and coaches. Referees are fair game or at least that’s how we act. Some 23 states have laws which specifically address “assault on a sports official.”

Officials are attacked so often that nearly half the country had to enact laws to deal with the problem. Think about it. Every state has laws pertaining to assault and battery. You can’t just go around beating people up without consequence. Yet, the attacks on sports officials have become so bad that lawmakers felt the need to write special sets of statutes. Referees deserve our respect. Mr. Nieuwenhuizen was a volunteer as many officials are. Even if your league pays its refs, please keep their role and yours in perspective.

Imagine a referee going to a football sideline and yelling to the coach, “Well, I wouldn’t call holding so much if you would teach your player to block.” Outrage would ensue from the coaching community. Maybe an official goes over to a group of fans and says, ” I don’t why you all are cheering so loudly. These guys are terrible. I’ve officiated several of their games and they’re gonna lose by 50. As a matter of fact, you should probably ask for your money back.” Outrage would reach a fever pitch among fans.

In general, we hold officials to a higher standard. We should hold ourselves to the same high standard. Respect is a two-way street and you have to give it to get it. Our language and behavior toward referees must be tempered. Disagree without being disagreeable. Challenge the play without being confrontational. Be the example we want our kids to emulate. Let’s keep the family of Richard Nieuwenhuizen in our thoughts and be mindful that our kids are watching us. Until next time…

Be a Good Sport!



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