Monday 23 April 2018

Footballers as young as 10 'paid to injure opponents'

Mark Hughes New York

THE US's largest youth American football league has become embroiled in scandal after allegations that a team paid children aged 10 and 11 'bounties' to deliberately injure opponents.

The Pop Warner league, in which about 290,000 children participate nationwide, has launched an investigation amid claims that a team in California paid its players between $20 (€16) and $50 (€39) to deliver game-ending 'hits' on the opposition's best players.

The claims mirror identically those made against the New Orleans Saints, a professional National Football League (NFL) team, which was found to have operated a bounty system for two years between 2009 and 2011, during which they won the Super Bowl. The suggestion that boys as young as 10 were being offered money to hurt other children has brought huge embarrassment to the league, a widely respected American institution.

The scandal also comes at a time when the safety of American football is being debated. Thousands of former NFL stars have brought a lawsuit against the league alleging that information about potential brain damage arising from hits was hidden from them.

Prominent current stars, including the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees has said he would be hesitant to let his son play the sport because of the risk of brain injuries.

The claims surround a man named Darren Crawford, the head coach of the Tustin Junior Pee Wee Red Cobras in Los Angeles. He was accused by John Zanelli, a former assistant coach. Mr Zanelli claims that the practice began with players being paid for hard-hitting tackles but evolved into deliberately targeting star players of other teams. The payments are alleged to have been made in 2011 when the Cobras went undefeated before losing at the Pop Warner Super Bowl -- junior football's most prestigious prize. Mr Crawford, who has been suspended pending the investigation, has strenuously denied the allegations. In an email reported by the 'Wall Street Journal', he wrote: "I have never paid a player to go out and hurt another player period, end of story." Pat Galentine, the team president, has also been suspended. He too denies the charges. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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