In Mapleton, Utah, a parent’s, coaches, and youth league’s worst nightmares have come together in an incident that has resulted in the arrest of the coach for allegedly assaulting an opposing player during a game. The video can be viewed here, along with an editorial about the incident. The circumstances that led to this incident are fairly undisputed. The player was running a sweep around the left side of the line and ran out of bounds. The coach, was standing on the sideline, right where the player was headed, and raised his arms as the player approached. The player ran into his arm, was knocked to the ground, got up and continued playing the remainder of the game. After the game, the child’s mother took the child to the hospital, but no injury was found. County level prosecutors declined to charge the coach due to lack of an injury. However, the city attorney stepped in and filed charges himself.
There is much debate over whether any crime occurred, what the coach’s intention was, and whether the coach’s actions were instinctive, protective or aggressive. Regardless of the existence or non-existence of a criminal act, a civil lawsuit against the coach and the league remains a possibility. Claims of assault can be litigated civilly as well as criminally. However, a view of the video shows what should be a concern for the association as well. Football fields, like soccer fields, contain designated areas outside the field of play where teams and coaches are permitted to stand. The video shows that many coaches and players were outside of the designated area and right up against the sideline. If the coach and team had remained in the designated area, this incident probably never happens. Imagine the potential exposure to the league if a substitute was seriously injured in a sideline collision because the coach did not keep his team in the designated area.
This incident speaks to issues of training for both the coaches and the game officials. Clearly, a lax attitude toward the enforcement of “bench area” boundaries existed in the league. Three different coaches appear in the video outside of the bench area, along with numerous players. Did the league have a site monitor to assist in game management? Had the referees made any effort to enforce compliance? It is tempting to treat technical areas/bench areas as annoyances or guidelines that can be disregarded with little or no consequence. However, this situation shows exactly why an association should be diligent about enforcing rules that potentially impact player safety.