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Tustin Bounty Program Raises Questions About Integrity Of Sports

Chloe Roddy |
September 25, 2012 | 8:53 p.m. PDT


The 10- and 11-year-olds were rewarded for knocking out their opponents. (Fullerton Memorial Playground Athletic Association, Creative Commons)
The 10- and 11-year-olds were rewarded for knocking out their opponents. (Fullerton Memorial Playground Athletic Association, Creative Commons)
Well, this sounds familiar: allegations have been made that the Tustin Red Cobras, a Pop Warner football club in Orange County, paid their 10- and 11-year old athletes to reward them for making big hits during games and knocking out key players on opposing teams.

Just earlier this year, the New Orleans Saints were found to have been engaged in similar behavior, paying (or fining) players for their actions on the gridiron – a practice commonly referred to as a “bounty program.”

The two Tustin coaches accused of participating in the bounty program vehemently denied the existence of and their involvement in it, deflecting the blame back at the players and their parents for fabricating the story.

If the allegations are true, these coaches betrayed their own players in the name of…well, what exactly? The Pop Warner Super Bowl and all its glory?

Motives aside, in what has become protocol, the implicated coaches denied any and all culpability. While it seems highly unlikely given the evidence against them, it’s possible that the Tustin coaches may indeed be falsely accused. However, it doesn’t help their cause that over and over again in the realm of sports, it’s been shown that people refuse to admit wrongdoing until the evidence is overwhelmingly against them. 

In fact, in the closest parallel to this case, the Saints repeatedly lied about what ended up being a prominent and thriving bounty program. According to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the Saints “frankly were not forthright with what was happening. And that continued, and it continued even through our investigation.”

The Tustin coaches’ denials recall how this pattern of lying has overwhelmingly become the response to these situations – seen anywhere from the Saints to Melky Cabrera’s botched cover-up.  

In addition to this habit of evading responsibility, the Tustin bounty allegations bring to light other questionable decisions the coaches possibly made. According to one player on the team, if a player had a good warm-up hit before a game, one of the coaches would yell, “That will get you money.”

The players, consequently, became more and more focused on the cash. As another player recalled, "When we were after practice, getting our gear off, we were guessing who was going to get the money."

Plain and simple, this makes a mockery of youth sports. The coaches’ behavior led impressionable children to view the game as partially centered on money, instead of more important things like camaraderie and teamwork.

The players probably weren’t overly concerned with the program – they were just following orders. But the coaches’ actions imply that what they were doing was completely fine.

Given this, it’s less shocking that no Saints player voiced his opposition to the bounty program prior to the team’s incrimination. The extraordinary power and influence coaches have over their players not only make it difficult for the players to resist, but also make it appear more acceptable to engage in dubious behavior.

Is it time to question the importance of winning in sports? Of course not, but the issue of sporting integrity must eventually be addressed by scrutinizing the means taken to win, as well as the honesty associated with them.


Reach Contributor Chloe Roddy here.



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