Expressions of sympathy and outrage are pouring in from around the world for the family of a soccer referee who was declared legally dead Tuesday after he was attacked by an irate player during a Sunday afternoon rec league game.
John Bieniewicz, 44, of Westland died tragically and senselessly, doing what he loved, friends, family, other soccer officials and complete strangers say as they donate money on a GoFundMe site that has been established to help his family with funeral and burial expenses and to establish an education fund for Bieniewicz’s two sons, ages 9 and 13.
By mid-day Thursday, more than $84,500 of the $100,000 GoFundMe goal had been contributed by 1,478 people for Bieniewicz’s grief-stricken family, who include his wife, Kris; two sons, ages 9 and 13; and a brother, Jim.
“It helps knowing that so many people out there care about what happened,” Jim Bieniewicz, 36, of Livonia told the Detroit Free Press.
His brother was refereeing an adult soccer game in Livonia Sunday when Bassel Abdul-Amir Saad, 36, of Dearborn delivered a lethal “sucker-punch” that came without warning and knocked him out cold.
Saad had been given a yellow card for a hard foul earlier in the game and had just received his second – an automatic ejection from the game – after he shouted obscenities and directed taunts at Bieniewicz, The Detroit News reports.
More Charges Expected
Saad turned himself into authorities on Monday and is being held on $500,000 bond after he was arraigned on a felony charge of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office was expected to bring additional charges this week.
Saad had been playing soccer for about two years without incident, his attorney, Brian T. Berry, told The Detroit News. He said the allegations against his client have been mischaracterized and that Saad was not the aggressor, though he was “not suggesting” that Bieniewicz was the aggressor.
“As tragic as this event is, we must keep our minds open until all of the facts are in,” he said.
Certified at the collegiate, high school and elementary levels, Bieniewicz had been refereeing soccer games for about two decades. He also was the lead medical assistant in the pediatric chronic dialysis unit at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.
Patch Readers: End Violence or League Soccer Will End
The fatal attack stunned the local and world communities.
From both the East to West coasts and from the United Kingdom and beyond, friends and strangers have posted comments on the fundraising site and other online forums that express a universal difficulty in answering the question that haunts Jim Bieniewicz.
“Ever since the incident, I keep asking myself why did this happen? What for? Why did it happen?” Jim Bieniewicz told the Detroit Free Press. “And I don’t think I will ever get an answer to that.”
Patch readers are among those wondering why a rec league game played for simple enjoyment turned violent.
“Aren’t games supposed to be fun?” Patch reader Sue Czarnecki commented. “Why is violence even in the mix?”
Chuck Hahn agreed with Bieniewicz’s decision to eject a player charged with aggressive fouls, but acknowledged exercising such authority can be dangerous. “Some people do not even care about the game,” he said. “They just come to fight.”
He worries that if soccer league officials and participants can’t “protect themselves from the hoodlums,” the leagues will cease to exist.
“Without fans, the sport will die,” Hahn said, “so stopping aggression soon (both on and off the field) is the key to a highly competitive game.”
Others said Sunday’s tragedy is an imperativel for a zero-tolerance approach to violence on the field.
“All recreational leagues should adopt a rule of a permanent ban for physical violence to an official,” Dave Nowack commented.
It’s not just players who are taking the game too seriously said a reader who posts under the handle of “moecephus.”
“I was a referee for leagues spanning 5-year-olds (the parents were the danger there) to adult leagues,” the reader commented. “On more than one occasion, I faced serious threats and was fully prepared to defend myself. It seems that some teams and individual players took all calls personally and would react violently.
“Women were as bad as men in that regard. These people probably act the same if a cop stops them or someone cuts them off on the road.”
Jim Bieniewicz told the Free Press he wants his brother to be remembered not by how he died, but that he died doing what he loved. “I want him to be remembered as a man who loved his family, who loved the sport of soccer, was just an unbelievable example of how to live and work and provide,” he said.
Reader Dale Behler said the attack on Bieniewicz is “another sign of our violent times.”
“Our priorities are out of balance, and the importance of sports is emphasized too much,” he posted.
Soccer Referee Group Issues Statement
On Wednesday, the Michigan State Soccer Referee Association released a statement about Bieniewicz’s death and placed a symbol of mourning on its home page.
The statement read, in part:
“Unfortunately, there are times when players or fans forget about the game and displace their frustrations in manners that impact everyone. This is noted in the tragic death of John Bieniewicz. ...
“John’s tragic death is a painful loss to the soccer community — and youth soccer in Michigan — but this pales in comparison to the loss to the Bieniewicz family and thousands of persons who John touched in his short life.”Another Way to Help
For those who prefer not to give online, another fund has been established at Huntington Bank. Donations may be made at any of the bank’s branches in Michigan, or left at the Livonia Police Department, 15050 Farmington Road in Livonia.