Referee Mike Dean will not take the pitch during this weekend's slate of Premier League matches after he and his family received death threats on social media. The threats were reported to local authorities, and Dean is expected to return the following match week.
This incident comes in the wake of Dean sending off West Ham midfielder Tomas Soucek in the final moments of the club's draw against Fulham last weekend. Soucek was controversially shown a straight red for violent conduct after making contact with the face of Fulham's Alexsander Mitrovic with his elbow. Even after a check with VAR, where replays showed things to be a lot more incidental than intentional, Dean flashed a red card. It has since been rescinded on appeal.
"Threats and abuse of this nature are totally unacceptable and we fully support Mike's decision to report these messages his family received to the police. Nobody should be victim of abhorrent messages like this," said Mike Riley, head of referees in English professional soccer. "Online abuse is unacceptable in any walk of life and more needs to be done to tackle the problem."
Even Soucek himself offered a message of support on Twitter after news of the death threats broke.
Whatever decisions are made on the pitch should stay on the pitch. I don’t like hearing about it interfering with personal life and I send Mike Dean and his family my support. There is no place for abuse of any kind. It is in the past and I’m now focused on the rest of the season https://t.co/Tcofvo8a9X— Tomáš Souček (@tomassoucek28) February 8, 2021
That Dean has decided to take a step back for a week after the online abuse he took is no small matter, especially given that he's no stranger to controversy. He's not even one week removed from another incident where he gave another later-rescinded red card when he refereed Manchester United's match against Southampton. Prior to that, he had developed a reputation as one of the most polarizing members of the sport, not only just among officials.
This is the latest incident of current figures in the sport receiving online abuse worthy of investigation. The death threats towards Dean and his family are now compounded with the death threats, and racist abuse, that players such as Manchester United's Lauren James and Axel Tuanzebe, and Bristol Rovers defender Mark Little, received in the past few days. It has reinvigorated the British government's scrutiny towards social media companies.
"We are going to change the law to make social media companies more accountable for what happens on their platforms, and they can start showing their duty of care to players today by weeding out racist abuse now," said Oliver Dowden, British culture secretary. "Players must not be abused for doing their jobs -- enough is enough."