Violence at YAFL games raises concerns, prompts emergency meeting
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico’s Young America Football League leaders are meeting Wednesday evening to discuss an alarming increase in violence.
A youth football coach KOB 4 spoke with said he has seen plays that sent young players to the emergency room, coaches encouraging those violent plays and even swearing at the players. He said he wants to remain anonymous for his own safety, but the well-being of these young players is his number one concern.
"Other coaches may not be teaching techniques that are up to date and used to help protect kids,” he said.
He said this has escalated to a point where referees’ lives are threatened, and fights are breaking out between coaches, parents, fans and players.
There are also concerns about rough plays. One video shows a kid getting thrown on the ground. The other player kicks his head as he walks away. The coach we spoke with said the teen on the ground ended up in the hospital. He also said the violent team in the video sent it to his players with a threatening message.
"It was actually video taken from a parents’ social media account saying this is what happens when you play us," he said. "They sent this video to our kids, saying they can’t wait to play us because this is what’s going to happen to them."
Coaches and one league official said this has been a problem for years, and the meeting happening Wednesday to address this violence should have happened a long time ago.
"They’ve been reactive instead of proactive," the coach said. "There’s been a gradual decline in the integrity of the game or safety of players, techniques being taught, it’s become more and more about wins and losses."
He also gave a reason why the league’s rules have not been enforced in the past.
"Sometimes YAFL has turned a blind eye to infractions because of the people who are committing the infractions,” he said. “So YAFL needs to take and make an attempt to clean up the game and to have zero tolerance, no matter who’s violating, and actually enforce their rules that they themselves have set up."
KOB 4 reached out to the Young America Football League for comment. They sent this statement:
"There have been recent incidents regarding poor coaches and parent/fan behavior at our NMYAFL games. This behavior has recently affected the integrity of our game and the safety of our youth who participate as players. NMYAFL is committed to ensuring our youth are able to participate in football and cheer competitions safely. The league board of directors will be meeting with all head coaches for a mandatory in-person meeting to address this issue directly. Each coach will be reminded of the Coaches Code of Conduct policy and a zero tolerance of unsportsmanlike behavior by the league going forward. Each head coach will be required to hold a parent meeting to discuss the Parent and Player Code of Conduct policy. Each head coach and team will be required to acknowledge before resuming games. NMYAFL is dedicated to providing the youth an opportunity to participate in a program designed to build leadership skills, character and good sportsmanship."
People associated with the league admit there have been issues over the years – but this is the worst they’ve seen.
In fact, KOB 4 spoke to many parents and coaches about the violence at these games, but none of them would go on camera because they’re worried about retaliation, including a grandmother who was at a game over the weekend when the brawl started.
She said she was mad and scared, but mostly sad because her grandson had to see grown adults act that way.
"I told him it’s not OK, and I want you to know that this was not OK," she said. "And I told him, you know, this is not how anybody, I said this is not how adults should behave."
"It’s extremely disappointing," said Michael Storms, the president-elect for the New Mexico YAFL board of directors. "You know, it’s little kids playing football. It’s about the kids. You know, for coaches to be mad at a referee and then take that out on other parents and then start that fight, it’s just a shame."
Storms was very frank with the coaches – if they can’t control the parents or the sideline, they have to ask for help. Coaches can also talk to league commissioners and flag their own games for extra assistance. The venue has IPS security and Bernalillo County deputies on site most weeks. Storms said they’ve seen yelling matches between parents before, but nothing has ever reached this level.
Storms also said the coaches learned a lesson in controlling issues on the sidelines.