01/10/2012 13:01 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Youth American Football Team Accused Of Offering Financial Bribes To Children To Injure Opponents

Boy plays American football Alamy

The USA's largest youth American football league has become embroiled in scandal after allegations that a team paid children aged 10 and 11 'bounties' to deliberately injure opponents.

The suggestion that boys as young as 10 were being offered money to hurt other children has brought huge embarrassment to the Pop Warner League, an American institution in which 290,000 children participate.

The League has launched an investigation after claims that a team in California paid its players between $20 (£12) and $50 (£30) to deliver game-ending 'hits' on the opposing team's star players.

At the centre of the damning accusations is head coach of the Tustin Junior Pee Wee Red Cobras, Darren Crawford.

He was accused by his former assistant coach, John Zanelli, of offering children money for hard hitting tackles and for deliberately targeting the top players in the opposing team in an attempt to injure them until they had to come off the pitch.

The bribes were said to have been made in 2011 - until then the Cobras were undefeated before losing at the Pop Warner Super Bowl, junior American football's most prestigious prize.

Mr Crawford has now been suspended pending further investigations. In an email to the Wall Street Journal he strenuously denied any wrongdoing.

"I have never paid a player to go out and hurt another player period, end of story," he insisted.

The team's president, Pat Galentine, has also been suspended, and also denies the charges.

Jon Butler, the executive director of Pop Warner football, said he had never come across anything like it in junior football before.

"I've been asked that question several times, and my response to myself is, 'Just when you think you've been doing this long enough that you think that you've seen it all ... This is a first for any of us'," he said.

What a terrible message to send to kids - win at all costs.