Canevari's Corner

Imagine going to your child's youth football game and seeing bets being made on the game right before your eyes. The concept may seem unfathomable, but in South Florida that's exactly what was happening.

Nine youth football coaches or associates - eight of whom have been arrested - are facing felony charges in connection with a gambling system on the sport. Six of those nine men are ex-convicts who have a history of felony assault, drug and theft, charges, according to an ESPN article. One of those coaches, Brandon Bivins, operated a barbershop in South Florida that was a front for a gambling parlor where people could bet on professional, college or little league sports.

A police investigation began after ESPN's "Outside the Lines" reporting exposed betting during games in the South Florida Youth Football League in May of 2011. League officials said measures would be taken to stop gambling and when "Outside the Lines" returned in December of 2011 that seemed to be the case. However, detectives found that the gambling had not ceased, but rather become underground due to the publicity. What's more, it was the coaches that were promoting and organizing the bets as well as setting point spreads, according to the article.

In one instance, police observed two coaches betting on their own teams. In another, when betting was still occurring on the fields, one of the coaches took a handful of cash from someone and waved it in front of his players - showing them how much money he had riding on the game.

The objective of youth football - or any little league sport for that matter - is not only to teach kids the fundamentals of the sport, its also to provide them with positive role models and teach them lessons and values that they can carry with them throughout their lives. Exposing children to corruption at such a young age is criminal and the nine men who were charged should be punished accordingly. At that age, playing a sport is suppose to be fun. It's suppose to be pure. These men not only sullied that, but they used their positions as coaches for their own financial gain.

That's not the whole story though. Because money was being bet on the games - and by the way we're not talking small sums of money like $5 or $10; we're talking $20,000 and even up to $100,000 on the youth league's championship games - violence increased at the sporting events. According to the article, there were arguments between coaches, fights, even shootings. While arguments and fights are inappropriate at any level, that is exceptionally true at a children's sporting event. Arguments and fighting set bad examples for the children who bear witness to it. And shootings at games, really? That not only puts those children and everyone else in danger, but will likely scar those children for life. Clearly those involved don't care about the safety and well being of the children - or the others around for that matter - and that is perhaps even more disturbing.

Gambling became so powerful in the sport that when the president of the South Florida Youth Football League vowed to stop it, Bivins and other team leaders left and formed a league called the Florida Youth Football League - a league that had the backing of rap artists Flo Rida and Luther Campbell, according to the report.

Furthermore, the arrests made on Monday related to gambling have led to investigations into narcotics and organized crime operations in South Florida. While it's good that the people involved in this gambling system - or at least some of them anyway - have been caught, it's despicable that it took place to begin with. For one thing, how were some of these men - Bivins in particular - who were ex-convicts allowed to be around these kids? In Bivins case, the man had eight felony convictions in the state of Florida alone, which included aggravated armed assault, cocaine possession and grand theft, as well as others. One would think there would be some sort of screening process in place for anyone interested in coaching kids to prevent these kinds of people from being around them. If there isn't, there should be and if there is the question then becomes how did these men get past that process? Either way, the bottom line is that youth organizations such as this should be more vigilant in deciding who to let around children. If the nine men who are being charged are found guilty of felony bookmaking they could face a penalty of up to five years in prison. Given the nature of the crime, one can only hope that in this instance justice is not blind.


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