Football coach could face criminal charges for handling of concussed players

Cameron Smith
January 31, 2012

A Pittsburgh-area high school football coach finds himself defending past actions in an attempt to avoid criminal charges for interfering with in-game medical treatment of players who may have had concussions in an attempt to keep them in games.

As reported extensively by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other Pittsburgh sources, Peters Township (Pa.) High football coach Rich Piccinini finds himself the subject of an investigation by the Peters police department after it received a complaint from Washington County Children and Youth Services.

Piccinini has denied that any charges against him are founded, but a professional who has provided physical therapy and athletic training services for the Peters Township School District since 2003 questioned Piccinini's claims, saying that the coach's efforts to allow his players to continue despite dangerous injuries were, "the most deplorable, disrespectful and disgraceful behavior from a head coach in any sport I have ever seen."

"Now we will have a real investigation with real police and real detectives," Mark Mortland, the Pittsburgh Penguins' former head athletic trainer turned Peters Township consultant, told the Post-Gazette. "The biggest thing is the safety of the kids, but the underlying issue is that anyone who overlooks the safety of kids needs to be gone."

With the police investigation ongoing, Piccinini has now hired a high-profile local lawyer, Robert G. Del Greco Jr., who has also defended past Steelers stars Jerome Bettis, Jeff Reed and Deshea Townsend.

As one might expect, Del Greco Jr. wasted little time in coming to the written defense of his client.

"While no one welcomes a police investigation, hopefully this second inquiry will yet again expose the allegations as scurrilous attacks on Mr. Piccinini and, importantly, put them to rest again and forever," Del Greco Jr.'s written release announcing his hiring by the Peters Township coach read. "For 22 years, Rich Piccinini has coached football without even a whisper of impropriety. The excellent reputation that he has earned over two decades should speak volumes as to the absurdity of the 'Mortland report.'"

The "Mortland report" to which Del Greco Jr. refers is not so much an actual written report as public statements by Mortland about his concerns over Piccinini's handling of possibly concussed players during games. Mortland, who has said publicly he was not the person who officially reported potential child endangerment to Washington County Children and Youth Services, has been publicly critical of Piccinini throughout the process that led to the coach's reappointment in January at a meeting that drew considerable public attention and debate, as you can see in the video directly above.

Now those comments threaten to either land legal charges against a high school football coach or jeopardize the professional reputation of a longtime, respected athletic trainer, depending on what a police investigation can uncover.

At the same time, if charges are brought, they could serve as an early salvo in how parents and health professionals respond to coaches who fail to conform to best practices related to dangerous head injuries, changing the power dynamic of dangerous injuries on the high school football field.

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