In Miami’s African-American communities, youth football is a huge deal. Thousands of people attend big games. The quality of play is extraordinary. And some of the nation’s best young athletes participate. Dolphins former all-pro receiver Chad Johnson, Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, and University Miami all-star running back Duke Johnson all started in Optimist league football.
But as the 2015 youth spring football season kicks into gear, there’s an epidemic spreading in Miami-Dade County. A growing number of parents are pimping out their children by accepting cash from coaches and supporters who want to form superteams.
One year, a star running back will be in the backfield for the Gwen Cherry Park Optimist Club. The following year, you might see the same kid playing for Miami Gardens. In some cases, entire teams have switched parks in the off-season. The practice has become so widespread there’s a term for people who do it: “park jumpers.”
It’s a dirty secret that won’t be exposed unless ESPN does another Outside the Lines investigation like the 2012 report that revealed widespread gambling among coaches and boosters from Broward County teams. After the program aired, nine men were arrested and charged with illegal gambling by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.
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Yet the corruption in youth football continues. Orange Bowl Youth Football Alliance and local leagues aren’t doing anything to stop it. Park jumpers are lured by coaches offering them money to help pay their rent and utility bills. It’s disguised as financial assistance, but it’s really a bribe.
Back in the day, boys would stick with the same Optimist Club from the time they were 4 until they turned 15. Being part of one team was like being part of a family. Nowadays, park jumpers don’t care how many teams their children play for.
As a result, some little-league football players grow up feeling entitled. When these kids go to college, they won’t think twice about quitting and losing their scholarships when they don’t get their way. It is also teaching young black kids to be irresponsible. And the black community has enough black men who are irresponsible and disloyal not taking care of their families.
Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1