MARBLE FALLS, Texas — The video shows a bone-crushing tackle on a Texas high school football field — not one player hitting another, but one player leveling a game-day official. As if that blindside hit wasn’t alarming enough, one of his John Jay High School teammates finishes it off by diving helmet-first on the fallen referee.
But what the video doesn’t show is why.
On Tuesday, Texas school officials offered clues — suggesting that Mustang players were angry about calls and alleged racial slurs from one game official, and may have been directed to take action.
“The students alleged that an assistant coach said (of the targeted referee), ‘That guy needs to pay for cheating us,’ or words to that effect,” Northside Independent School District spokesman Pascual Gonzalez told reporters.
That 23-year-old coach, who was hired in 2010, is on administrative leave while authorities investigate the incident in Friday night’s game between John Jay and Marble Falls High School. Northside School Superintendent Brian Woods said the players apparently told the assistant coach about slurs directed against them.
“His alleged suggestion to the students was inappropriate and could have led to this incident,” Gonzalez said.
The players and coach are not the only ones potentially in trouble. School officials also plan to file a complaint against the referee who allegedly directed at least two racial slurs at John Jay players.
Even if such comments were made, they wouldn’t justify what happened in the fourth quarter of John Jay’s last game, said the Northside school district’s top athletic official, Stan Laing.
“In the spirit of competition,” Laing said, “the ultimate authority and respect needs to be given to those officials — regardless of what may have been said.”
Video of blindside hit goes viral
In less than four days, there have been 8 million views of one YouTube video showing the John Jay player’s jarring hit of the referee and the follow-up spearing by one of his teammates.
Woods said the video drove home how serious and dangerous the hits were.
“I went from being disturbed by the initial verbal explanation that had been given to me to (being) really very troubled,” Woods said. “It was really very disturbing that students associated with one of our programs would engage in that kind of behavior.”
The incident came near the end of what had been an emotionally charged game.
Two other John Jay players had been ejected by that point, with the targeted referee kicking out the wrong one on one occasion. The referee allegedly made a slur around the time of the second ejection, Laing said.
A similar purported comment came on the next-to-last play, though the athletic director didn’t rule out other slurs.
School officials don’t believe John Jay’s head football coach, Gary Gutierrez, knew about his assistant coach’s conversations with the players who hit the official.
Prosecutor open to filing charges against players
The players who “targeted one of the game officials and blindsided him,” according to Marble Falls police, were kicked out of the game. The two have since been suspended from their team and school.
They’ll be subject to a disciplinary hearing for “assault on a school official” that could lead to expulsion or placement in a juvenile justice school, said Gonzalez, the school district spokesman.
The players could also face criminal charges.
Investigators have contacted Burnet County Attorney Eddie Arredondo, whose jurisdiction includes Marble Falls, and the prosecutor has said he is open to filing charges, Marble Falls Police Department spokesman Tom Dillard said.
Dillard wouldn’t speculate on the timing of any potential charges. If charges are filed, he said, the football players could be looking at counts of assault.
Individuals 17 and older are considered adults in Texas. Dillard said he did not know the players’ ages.
Laing, the Northside district athletic director, told reporters he can’t really draw much on his 30 years in education and years before that as an athlete to make sense of the situation.
“This is the first time I’ve ever witnessed and experienced (anything like this) in the realm of athletics,” he said.