Youth football coach, league president finally punished for bounty scandal

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

During the final days of September, Prep Rally covered the disturbing story of the Tustin Red Cobras Pop Warner football team, which offered up bounty payments for big hits much like the NFL New Orleans Saints had previously done. While Pop Warner officials had refrained from any discipline before the publication of a raft of stories covering the incident, the subsequent media deluge apparently changed their tune, with Tustin head coach Darren Crawford and the Tustin Pop Warner league president both suspended for their role in the bounty scandal.

The Tustin Cobras in action — Flickr
The Tustin Cobras in action — Flickr

As reported by the Orange County Register, the same paper which first broke the story of the youth bounty payments, National Pop Warner executive director John Butler said that the organization felt it needed to intervene in proceedings after "new information" came to light about the alleged bounty program.

There was no official word about what that "new information" may have been, but it was almost certainly connected to the testimony from no fewer than six parents, four players and an assistant coach on the team, all implicating Crawford for his role in the disgusting incentives.

"We will assign a local designee who is not affiliated with the association to lead the investigation and will work closely with the Wescon Region and Orange Empire Conference to ensure the safety of our participants and the integrity of the Pop Warner program," Butler wrote to the Register. "We take this matter very seriously and have asked Tustin Pop Warner head coach Darren Crawford and Tustin president Pat Galentine to step down until this situation is finalized."

While the suspension of both Crawford and Galentine served as a solid first step in accountability for the organization, some parents feel that the league should go much further in disciplining the coach.

"They should get rid of the entire Tustin Pop Warner board and Bobby Espinosa," John Zanelli, the former Red Cobras assistant coach who first went public with the payments for hits among the team. "This is one of the worst examples I've ever seen and a failure of leadership in youth sports."

Given what allegedly took place -- players aged 10 and 11 receiving $20 bills for leaving opponents concussed or forced to leave the game -- it's hard to argue with Zanelli's assertion.

Regardless, the move from the national Pop Warner officials almost certainly ends Crawford's eight-year run as the program's head coach, a reign in which he led the Red Cobras to the Pop Warner Super Bowl but eternally stained the organization's name during the very drive that got them there.

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