When Cristiano Ronaldo shoved Basque official Ricardo De Burgos Bengoetxea during the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Sunday, it was a foolish way to go out.
The 32-year-old star had scored not two minutes earlier during Real Madrid’s 3-1 victory, coming on midway through the game to further help his side dominate the match.
Then, he drew a yellow card for taking his shirt off in celebration of his goal. That was followed up with a second yellow when De Burgos Bengoetxea ruled that the star had tried to draw a penalty with a dive.
Ronaldo disagreed with the decision, and got physical over the matter.
Practically every professional sport has rules to protect officials from intimidation.
Arguing with a referee can result in ejection, but physical contact — as was the case here — is a near-universal automatic suspension. Various leagues and individual sports offer different game-minimums for the bans, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an activity where physical altercations with game officials don’t result in significant punishments.
It might be a good thing for Real Madrid to not have Ronaldo for the next five games, which includes the second leg of the Supercopa and a handful of key league matches to kick off the new season. He has been slowly working his way back into the lineup after missing a significant amount of summer training; this gives him a chance to get his fitness back without the team having to decide between sitting him and losing out on his clear offense.
It’s also being lauded as a moment of humanity for soccer’s most untouchable star. It’s proof, the argument goes, that even the mighty Cristiano Ronaldo makes inexplicable mistakes.
It’s still a grave lesson, though. It’s a harsh reminder that stardom doesn’t always mean immunity — and when it comes to official intimidation, that especially rings true.
It’s rare that a player gets a suspension for legitimately assaulting a referee.
Minor league soccer club AFC Ann Arbor saw leading scorer Dario Suarez suspended for six months this June when he kicked a ball directly at an official from about 20 yards. NHL defenseman Dennis Wideman was suspended for 20 games during the 2015-16 campaign when he cross-checked a linesman in the back of the neck and caused permanent physical damage. For the most part, though, referee altercations involve a finger poke, or a shoulder shove, or something else petty and inconsequential.
Still, the message stands; as the intended neutral-party hand of the law during a sports event, referees and other officials are expected to be exempt from any physical intimidation, which could ultimately influence how they call a match.
It’s easy to mock Ronaldo for what he did, and for how serious his punishment is. Players have been slapped with much smaller punishments for much more physically harmful acts on the pitch, and this is how the megastar opted to kick off his season.
It’s a good reminder of why abuse of officials is an automatic ban, though, and why it carries such a heavy fine regardless of the severity.
If Ronaldo had gotten away with a shove, it seems unlikely that he — or many other soccer stars, for that matter — would have taken that as an invitation to push officials around when they make controversial calls.
Not all athletes would be so quick to dismiss that kind of idea, though.
If one star gets away with a shove in the back over call he disagrees with, what’s to stop another from doing something similar? Just a shove here, a trip there; a finger poke in the chest, or even an attempt to pull a Dario Suarez and hand the ball off to the official a little too forcefully.
Players will still do this. After all, the suspension rules exist because there’s a need for them, and there’s no way to fully cure sports of spontaneous, pure stupidity.
The argument over Real Madrid’s benefit from Ronaldo’s suspension, though, is practically irrelevant. The real bottom line is that, thankfully, the rules did exactly as they were intended to.
Maybe, next time, Ronaldo will keep his head in the heat of the moment.