Those of you who thought the Saints bounty scandal was disturbing probably won’t even want to read this. A recent report from the Orange County Register revealed that a pair of Pop Warner coaches who coach 10- and 11-year-olds in Tustin, Calif., have been accused of paying their players to injure opponents.
The coaches, head coach Darren Crawford and assistant coach Richard Bowman, allegedly led their team to an undefeated record in 2011. Now they are being accused by an assistant coach, a parent and multiple players of instructing their team to target specific players on several opposing teams. Tustin Pop Warner league officials have denied a bounty program took place and Crawford admits he told his team to target opposing players, but claims he never said anything about rewarding his players for hurting someone.
“My son said he had won the prize,” an anonymous father from the Tustin Red Cobras said. “He had a good, clean hit. The kids voted his play as the play of the game. He showed me one $20 bill. He said the coaches, plural, gave it to him.”
Crawford and Bowman insist the accusations stem from “disgruntled” parents who are lying and manipulating their children to do the same. Crawford said he may have given a kid money to go to the snack bar before, but never as a reward for injuring an opponent.
“It’s amazing what disgruntled parents will put their kids through,” the head coach said.
Statements from six players and four parents allege that the coaches offered bounties from anywhere between $20 and $50 during the three playoff games at the end of the 2011 season. Three players and two parents reportedly met with the Register earlier this month and described the origin of the bounty system in detail, claiming Crawford was frustrated when his team lost in the playoffs in 2010 and was determined to win the Pop Warner Orange Bowl and Pop Warner Super Bowl in 2011.
Two players said the team was excited when the coaches informed the kids that they could earn money for knocking opponents out of games.
“We were like, ‘OK! We’re going to go hit them! Wow!’” one player explained.
“When we were after practice, getting our gear off, we were guessing who was going to get the money,” another player said.
Leading up to a game against Santa Margarita, the players say the Tustin coaches targeted three opposing players and taped their numbers to a tackling sled during practice. In regard to the payments, they were instructed to not go “bragging about this to anybody.”
If the accusations are true, it would be hard to defend the actions of the coaches as anything less than despicable. Stories about bounties like this one from the Saints or this one from college football have become all too common over the past year or so, and those are grown men who are capable of making their own decisions. Manipulating young children who look up to their coaches and feel pressured to please them would bring the issue to a new and even more disturbing level.
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