SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A referee for a recreational soccer league was in critical condition in a Salt Lake City hospital after being punched in the face by a teenage player who didn't like a call the man made in a weekend game.
The 17-year-old was booked into a juvenile detention center on suspicion of aggravated assault, said Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal. Those charges could be amplified if the 46-year-old referee's condition worsens.
The incident happened in a flash during a soccer game Saturday at a field at Eisenhower Junior High School in Taylorsville, a Salt Lake City suburb.
The referee called a foul on the player and issued him a yellow card, triggering the player to turn and punch him, authorities said. At first, it appeared the referee just had minor injuries from the single blow.
When the man was taken to a hospital, however, doctors discovered serious internal head injuries, Hoyal said. He's been in critical condition since Saturday.
There was no buildup to the incident or previous exchange of words between the referee and player, Hoyal said.
"It was almost an instinctive reaction," Hoyal said.
The player was larger than the referee, Hoyal said, but he declined to give specifics about his height and weight.
By the time police arrived at the field, the teenager had left. Authorities investigated the incident over the weekend and arrested the teen Monday. He was in the Salt Lake Valley Juvenile Detention Center, and his name wasn't released because he's a minor.
The referee's name also was withheld. His family has declined media requests for interviews.
The man did not appear to be a licensed referee. The game was part of a "rogue league" unaffiliated with the popular Utah Youth Soccer Association or any city or town recreation department, association CEO Andrew Hiatt said. The association has 50,000 youth players and 15,000 coaches statewide.