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Tuesday, October 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Rules tightened after men’s rec soccer player headbutts, punches referee

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 7, 2019, 6:27 p.m.

After soccer referee Luke Staben pulled out a red card and showed it to a player last week during a men’s recreation game, the recipient headbutted him and punched him, causing a concussion. (Courtesy of Luke Staben)
After soccer referee Luke Staben pulled out a red card and showed it to a player last week during a men’s recreation game, the recipient headbutted him and punched him, causing a concussion. (Courtesy of Luke Staben)

A men’s soccer player headbutted an opponent at the Plante’s Ferry Sports Complex on July 31, then headbutted and punched the referee who showed him a red card.

That left the referee, Luke Staben, with a concussion, led to the player’s permanent expulsion from the Inland Northwest Soccer Association, led the soccer league to tighten its rules on referee abuse and initiated a criminal investigation.

The investigation is not complete and no charges have been filed. The player’s name has not been released.

According to Mark Gregory, spokesman for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, the conflict began when the ball went out of play during a match.

That’s when the player attacked the opposing player, Gregory said.

The referee, Staben, showed him a red card and ejected him from the game, Gregory said.

Instead of the player leaving the game and the property, the player became angry and headbutted and punched Staben, according to Gregory.

“I was super disappointed, especially because the game was going so smoothly,” Staben said. “It came out of nowhere.”

The player then ran to his car and drove off, Gregory said. Deputies have the name of the player and are investigating, he said.

Staben later went to the hospital for a concussion, he said.

“It makes it tough to continue officiating,” Staben said.

The assault led to changes in the league’s rules regarding referee abuse, said Tim Johnson, president of the Inland Northwest Soccer Association.

The league’s board of directors passed new rules Tuesday that state that any foul, abusive or provocative language toward a referee that warrants a red card will result in a five-week suspension, Johnson said. Also, if a player gets a red card and does not leave the grounds immediately, it will result in a five-week suspension, he said. Any violent or physical contact to a referee after a red card will result in a lifetime ban from the league, he said.

Johnson said the player has been banned for life from the league.

“This is the first time I’m aware that we’ve experienced this,” he said. “But dissent toward referees, posturing and intimidation has been on the rise nationally in all sports. There’s a concerning trend.”

Headbutting in soccer increased in popularity during the 2006 World Cup Final, when French star Zinedine Zidane infamously headbutted Italian midfielder Marco Materazzi in his chest. The headbutt became one of the most discussed moments in World Cup history.

Staben, a referee for six years in Spokane, is taking measures to lobby state politicians, including Gov. Jay Inslee, to pass new laws that upgrade assaults on referees. He said it’s a problem that is pervasive in all sports.

He said he has not yet heard back from politicians about changing crime laws with assaulting referees and that he plans to continue to officiate games.

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