It seems that not only are surfers beset with sharks in the South Florida area these days but also youth football. The little tykes out there battling for a touchdown to impress their parents and coaches are being overrun with a different kind of predator: the gambling variety.
Most youth football coaches design their athletic programs to teach their five to fifteen year old athletes character, honesty, fair play and invaluable life skills. Well, apparently the playbook has fallen into enemy hands.
“Operation Dirty Play”
After complaints from some parents and coaches, an 18 month investigation into a bazaar division of criminal activity was initiated by the Broward County and Miami-Dade Sheriffs offices called “Operation Dirty Play” (source – ESPN). The undercover action netted nine members of a high stakes gambling ring including of all people, coaches.
Yes, nine coaches were arrested one of which was the coach and president of the Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes – one of the most successful youth football teams in the state. Most of these individuals have criminal records such as felony assault and drugs. In one case, a referee was punched by a coach and an opposing coach’s dog was shot at his house as a result of the animosity that prevails amongst these “leaders” of our youth who have taken to gambling on this precious cargo.
The Barber Shop
To further their ambitions, the criminals went as far as to set up gambling operations in a fake barber shop and an athletic apparel store (source – NBC6-Miami). The supposed hair cutting operation was complete with a sign on the front of the building, the big chairs of the profession but no visible sign of tools of the trade and no hair on the floor. Behind this imaginary enterprise, gaming on our children was taking place with stakes reaching as high as $100,000 on championship games.
Ironically, near a different beach about 2,300 miles away, another herd of sharks of the gambling variety were circling their prey of innocent players in their formative years in beautiful Orange County California (source – OC Register). Along with the usual placing of wagers, coaches and trainers offered hit money to the young warriors – similar to the current scandal in the National Football League (NFL), with prize money for actually knocking a player out of the game (source – Huffington Post).
As a former high school football player with a son who took the sport to the college level, it’s difficult finding the words to express my loathing for this kind of criminal behavior. The direction these purveyors of corruption have chosen, strikes at the very heart of our society.
Glen “Pop” Warner, the legend who began and honored this division of the sport with his name, would be stunned to see how criminality has tarnished the great invention he held so dear … youth football.