Football Player Who Assaulted a Referee Seeks a New Start

EDINBURG, Texas — Emmanuel Durón, 19, was scheduled to depart for faculty final Friday. A shock pool social gathering was organized to ship him off to revive a ruined soccer career. But the commerce faculty he plans to attend in Atlanta was nonetheless attempting to safe a area for its inaugural season. So Durón must wait at the least a few extra weeks earlier than beginning a new life, aiming to change into somebody apart from a eternally villain who attacked a referee.

Fred Gracia, 57, spent final week touring throughout South Texas for a grocery chain, putting meats and different objects of their correct circumstances, on their designated cabinets. He drives 500 to 1,000 miles a week, attempting to revive the strange rhythm of his life, looking for what virtually each referee desires, to be invisible.

For seven months, Durón and Gracia have been attempting to flee the brutal, viral cause most individuals have heard their names.

Their violent encounter got here throughout a highschool recreation in December. Durón was ejected after being flagged for 3 penalties on the identical play. He went to the sideline, then rushed again onto the sector, slamming into the referee. Gracia appeared to levitate earlier than falling backward to the turf, his legs helplessly within the air.

Until that second, Durón, then 18, was principally unknown past his circle of household, mates and teammates within the Rio Grande Valley, on the border with Mexico. He was a star defensive finish and wrestler at Edinburg High School, 6 toes tall, 250 kilos, with scholarship prospects. Four school scouts had been reportedly within the stands that evening.

Then Durón rammed Gracia, breaking certainly one of sport’s most inviolable guidelines. With that lack of management, he turned a nationwide outrage, jailed, charged with misdemeanor assault. Video of the incident unfold in a digital dash. Within hours, social media was aflame with fury, condemnation, threats.

Iris Gracia, a musician and Fred’s daughter, wrote on Twitter of Durón, “I hope he’s never allowed to step on the field and play a sport ever again.”

Then she reconsidered and wrote: “I’ve had some time to reflect on what I said yesterday. I know it may have come off as harsh to some. It’s tough in the heat of the moment. Prayers and good vibes for everyone at this time. We could all use a little bit more positivity this year.”

Gracia’s reassessment prompt a variety of necessary questions. When a younger athlete commits an egregious act, the place ought to punishment intersect with compassion? Does the athlete deserve a second likelihood? And how does a teenager start once more after going through nationwide disgust and cancellation?

Even whereas he lay dazed on the sector, Fred Gracia mentioned in an interview, he forgave Durón. He is glad, he mentioned, that Durón appears to have a likelihood to rescue a self-sabotaged athletic career. Gracia mentioned he additionally confronted the legislation as a youthful man, spending 24 hours in jail after he was arrested on a drunken-driving cost in 1990. In that second, he mentioned, he discovered himself. Perhaps, Durón will discover himself, too.

“I wish him the best,” Gracia mentioned within the interview, performed by video final week. “I hope he’s made peace with himself. He’s just starting his life.”

In attempting to place the incident behind them, Gracia and Durón have a lot in frequent. Both have struggled to sleep at occasions. Both have grown weary of the general public stares, the whispers of recognition, the dreaded question: Are you that man?

“I’m trying my hardest to forget everything and be someone in life,” Durón mentioned final week in his first interview because the December assault. “I want people to see the real me. I’m not just a kid who did something wrong.”

He spoke at his house after a day of rain left his neighborhood flooded. Visitors needed to be ferried out and in in pickup vans. His father, who can also be named Emmanuel and erects scaffolding at refineries, sat on a couch in the lounge and spoke of the significance of his son changing into the primary individual within the household to attend school. Durón’s lawyer, Jose Antonio Solis, stood within the room and repeated a acquainted admonition.

“This is the beginning of your story,” he advised his shopper. “What you do going forward will determine how the story ends.”

The outburst on the soccer area was not Durón’s first. Ten months earlier, he had shoved a referee in a soccer match and been suspended from Edinburg High’s group. Weekly counseling classes, Durón mentioned, have taught him to regulate his anger. He has realized to calm himself with respiratory methods, to suppose earlier than he acts, to forgive himself when others is not going to.

Perhaps it’s best that he’s going distant for faculty. No one is aware of him in Atlanta. It’s a likelihood for a recent begin.

“I don’t want people judging me every single moment without knowing me,” Durón mentioned.

Yet he understands that the judgment will proceed. Earlier this summer season, whereas working a building job, he was acknowledged at a Walmart in Nebraska. It struck him“how the world knows in a matter of seconds,” he mentioned. “One mistake can ruin everything.”

One of Durón’s finest mates, Arturo Gonzalez, 18, went into a native retailer two months in the past, sporting a T-shirt, often called a fan shirt, that bore Durón’s identify and jersey quantity on the again. Gonzalez mentioned one of many retailer’s staff advised him: “That’s the guy with the referee, right? Maybe he should get some more time in jail.”

And then there are the threats on Durón’s social media accounts like, “Where do you live so I can go kill you?” He has realized to disregard such hatred. For a whereas, he mentioned, it left him depressed, overwhelmed.

“It was basically the whole world against me,” Durón mentioned. “That’s how I saw it.”

Durón has not spoken to Gracia because the assault. The assault cost towards him continues to be pending. On Christmas Eve, he sat on the couch at house — sporting a tie and dress shirt, flanked by his mother and father, all of them in somber distinction to the adorned tree within the nook — and mentioned in a video that he was sorry.

He clasped his arms, the anger from a few weeks earlier gone from his eyes, and mentioned in a calm voice: “To Mr. Fred Gracia, I would like to apologize to you personally. I hope you’re doing well. I am extremely sorry for my actions towards you, and I hope one day you can accept my apology.”

“He touched my heart,” Gracia mentioned.

In the vacation spirit, Gracia mentioned, he thought of asking that the assault cost be dropped. But he demurred. Though he had forgiven Durón, he mentioned he couldn’t condone his habits. In April, Gracia testified earlier than a state legislative committee and supported a bill, signed into legislation in June, that prohibits Texas athletes who assault a referee from taking part in highschool sports activities once more, with sure exceptions.

“The last thing I would want anyone to see is a fellow official getting paralyzed out there or losing their life,” Gracia mentioned.

He and his lawyer additionally need the Edinburg faculty district to start administering psychological well being screenings to athletes, together with conventional bodily examinations.

“He was 18; people deserve a second chance,” Richard Hinojosa, Gracia’s lawyer, mentioned of Durón. “But he was put in a very bad situation. He had done this before, and nobody gave him the tools to learn to cope with whatever issues he had.”

Gracia has been a referee for 30 years, discovering pleasure in clearly outlined guidelines, equitably utilized. But he isn’t certain that he’ll proceed officiating. His neck has begun bothering him and his again aches. He mentioned the ache could possibly be associated to the hit by Durón.

“My heart and my mind say yes,” Gracia mentioned about persevering with. “Sometimes my body doesn’t agree.”

He felt worry, too, he advised The Monitor newspaper of close by McAllen in May. “Sometimes,” Gracia mentioned, “I don’t know how I’m going to react if somebody charges at me and wants to confront me about a rule.”

The public response to the incident has been whipsawing. Gracia mentioned he was shocked and grateful in regards to the quantity of people that took time to want him properly amid a pandemic that ravaged the Rio Grande Valley. But he might solely muster a single phrase — “Really?” — when a buddy crouched into a soccer stance as if to playfully assault him. And he drained of people that approached him, asking whether or not he was the referee who had been assaulted.

“That’s not me,” he mentioned at occasions.

Because the prison case stays unresolved, Durón’s lawyer declined to let him give particulars about what occurred in that explosive second on Dec. 3.

The Edinburg High Bobcats, their season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic, entered the sport that evening with a 2-2 report, needing a victory to succeed in the playoffs. In these first 4 video games, Durón had been credited with a unprecedented 102 tackles. He appeared positioned to be named once more as one of the best defensive participant in District 31-6A, whose groups play amongst Texas’s largest excessive faculties.

Durón had additionally been named the world’s high wrestler as a junior after constructing a report of 44-8 and finishing fifth in the 2020 state tournament in the 220-pound class. He was an early favourite to win a state title in his senior year. Area coaches described him as an athlete with uncooked power and kinetic depth.

“He never stops,” mentioned Koy Detmer, the highschool soccer coach in Somerset, Texas, and a former N.F.L. quarterback.

The guidelines of soccer and wrestling allow managed antagonism. But Durón strayed far past the permissible in Edinburg High’s recreation towards the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High Bears.

This is Gracia’s description of what occurred: With Edinburg forward by a landing within the second quarter, Durón complained that he was being held illegally. Gracia advised Durón to not discuss to him. He most popular to have these discussions with coaches, not gamers. Durón went to the sideline, spoke to his coach, then charged into the opposing quarterback on the following play. Gracia flagged Durón for a late hit.

The line choose then assessed two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties towards Durón — one for taunting a rival participant, the opposite for saying one thing untoward in regards to the line choose’s mom. The infractions known as for an computerized ejection. Gracia raised his proper hand, thumb prolonged, and mentioned over the general public tackle system, “Number 88 on the defense has been disqualified.”

The evening of the sport, Durón’s father advised The New York Times that the referee had cursed his son. The Washington Post reported similar accusations from unnamed Edinburg players. Gracia denied them. Lupe Rodriguez, the coach of Pharr-San Juan-Alamo, mentioned that he had heard no cursing and had by no means identified Gracia to make use of profanity. He mentioned Gracia “calls the game by the book, is professional, gets along with everybody, has one of the better crews in the Valley.”

Upon being ejected, Durón went to the sideline and Gracia picked up his flag and commenced strolling upfield. Then Durón, his helmet eliminated however his shoulder pads nonetheless on, charged again onto the sector. A teammate and a coach gave chase however couldn’t cease him as he rammed into Gracia. The referee rolled onto his abdomen and was later helped to his toes. He left the sport and was examined for a attainable concussion and a shoulder damage, in keeping with information accounts.

He mentioned he nonetheless doesn’t perceive why Durón assaulted him. They had no harsh phrases earlier than the ejection, Gracia mentioned, including, “I just announced it.”

Durón was escorted from the stadium by law enforcement officials and booked into jail in Edinburg, nonetheless sporting his blue soccer pants. His father introduced him a pair of sweatpants. His cleats had been taken, and he mentioned he spent the evening in his soccer socks. The subsequent morning, he was booked into the Hidalgo County jail, and later launched after posting a $10,000 bond.

He spent about 24 hours locked up, as Gracia had three a long time earlier. He realized, as Gracia did, that he by no means wished to be in a place like that once more. No Edinburg coaches or faculty officers visited him in jail, Durón mentioned. Nor did any coaches converse to him, he mentioned, when he briefly returned to highschool to take state evaluation exams.

“I was one of the best and people would say, ‘Durón, he’s a good player for his school,’” he mentioned. “Where are they now?”

He was suspended from faculty for 3 days. His highschool sports activities career was terminated. He completed his senior year, as did his classmates, by distant studying. Edinburg High received the Dec. 3 recreation however forfeited its spot within the playoffs. Its coach was eliminated. Durón lost any likelihood to play soccer or wrestle at a high-profile school.

The solely coach who confirmed curiosity was Derek Jenks of the start-up Atlanta Institute of Business, an internet commerce faculty on the fringes of post-high faculty soccer. The group’s fall schedule consists of different commerce faculties, prep faculties, junior schools and an N.C.A.A. Division III school. Last week it was nonetheless negotiating to play house video games at an Atlanta soccer complicated. Players have delayed their scheduled arrival till Aug. 1.

Jenks mentioned in a cellphone interview that he grew up in foster care, felt a reference to Durón and wished to offer him a second likelihood. “I’m not going to let 30 seconds of his life dictate the next 30 years of his life,” Jenks mentioned.

Last week, after the water receded in his neighborhood, Durón, Gonzalez and one other buddy went to an amusement middle to bowl and shoot pool. Durón observed the acquainted stares and whispers. As he left within the drizzly, muggy night, he scrolled by his social media accounts on his cellphone and skim the newest insults.

“Did you kill that ref?”

Then he replayed the notorious video, himself working onto the sector and charging the referee. It is Durón’s goal and burden to show that this indignant participant was not his true self. The video performed repeatedly, and he watched with seeming detachment, as if he had been seeing another person.

Michael Levenson and Neil Vigdor contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy contributed analysis.

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