One of the most disturbing chapters in the long annals of American youth sports took a step toward closure Tuesday when nine South Florida men were officially charged with a variety of counts in conjunction with placing bets on pee wee football games in Broward County, outside Miami.
As reported by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other sources, the Broward County Sheriff's Office arrested nine men in connection with an investigation called "Operation Dirty Play," an effort that stretched more than a year and included surveillance by Broward County law enforcement officials, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, Fort Lauderdale and Lauderhill Police and the U.S. Marshalls Service.
By the sting operation's conclusion, it was determined that an illegal betting ring operation focused around the South Florida Youth Football League had generated more than $100,000 in proceeds and created a bona fide wagering market around games played in the small, Miami-area youth league. As part of the ring, bets were allegedly placed at a store called Showtime Sports and Apparel and a barbershop named Red Carpet Kutz Barbershop, located in Lauderdale Lakes and Lauderhill respectively.
Perhaps more disturbing still is the fact that eight of the nine men who were charged had served as coaches in the South Florida league, allegedly betting on or against their own teams to the tune of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Of the eight men arrested on Monday, two were held on bonds of $50,000 while a third was detained on $15,000 bond. The other six men, all of whom were among the league coaches indicted in the case, were not presented to Judge Linda Pratt, the official charged with adjudicating the case, in the first session.
It goes without saying that anyone betting on a youth sports event is both crazy and appallingly out of touch with the very ethos of youth sports itself. That a team's coach would bet hundreds or thousands of dollars on his own team also speaks to just how off centered his own priorities would be, both morally and financially.
Given an increased focus on young athlete health, the idea that a coach might have money riding on the outcome of a game would only stoke concerns that he or she would be more likely to force an injured top player back into a game, whether that player was physically ready to return or not. Though that may be just one concern stoked by the allegations against the South Florida nine, it is a disturbing and valid one nonetheless.
While none of the men charged have received a firm trial date as of yet, all will be eager to try and put the incident behind them, as difficult as that may be with the media scrutiny that is sure to follow.
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