Sep 25, 2012, 11:17 AM EDT
We take you now to Tustin, Calif., where the Tustin Red Cobras Pop Warner youth football league (not pictured) is mired in a bit of sticky controversy. Following a rather lengthy investigation, the Orange County Register says it has proof that coaches for one of the Red Cobras teams paid their players for hard hits on opponents. The players we’re referring to here are 10 and 11 years old.
The OC Register says it has at least four players who told a reporter that coaches paid them for hard tackles. One of those players’ parents, a former assistant coach on the team, even wrote out a chronology of events and signed it. The coaches involved deny that a bounty program existed.
The Orange Empire Conference, which governs the team involved, did its own investigation and concluded that no wrongdoing occurred. But this totally contradicts the statements of the four players and one assistant coach who say they witnessed the payments, alleged to have been made by head coach Darrren Crawford and then-defensive coordinator Richard Bowman. OC Register:
All three players, who are now 11 or 12, said they clearly remember when they first heard about the bounty program from Crawford. Two said they heard him introduce it at a practice; the other player said he first heard Crawford talk about it at a film session. As for actual payments, one player said, “I saw the (other) coaches give Coach Crawford the money and he gave it to (the player).” They all said they heard about the program multiple times from Crawford and Bowman.
We talked for more than an hour. The players’ fathers didn’t interrupt or try to put words in their mouths. Then, on Friday, the father of a fourth player told Keith that his son actually received cash.
Keith also tracked down parents of kids allegedly targeted in the bounty program. Reggie Scales’ reaction was, “How the hell are you going to allow this in Pop Warner?” It’s ridiculous. It infuriates me. My son could have been damaged for life.”
One of the opposing players suffered a concussion in his team’s game against the Red Cobras.
It fell to me to contact the accused coaches.
“Absolutely not, that is ridiculous,” Crawford said when I asked whether there had been a bounty program. “I’ve been cleared in three investigations. It’s amazing what disgruntled parents will put their kids through.”
The OC Register reports that two of those “investigations” had nothing to do with a bounty program.
Also: The Orange Empire Conference president who conducted the inquiry into the alleged bounty program, Robert T. Espinoza, was convicted of embezzling $50,000 from another southern California Pop Warner youth league in 2002-03, according to the Register. The felony was later expunged after Espinoza repaid about $17,000 of the money.
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