Video clips of the incident, which took place during a tournament in Emerson, Ga., quickly spread Sunday on the Internet. Players from a Chicago-based team, R.A.W. Athletics, were shown attacking referees, who could be seen fighting back as onlookers reacted with alarm. (Warning: violence and profanity.)
The coach of R.A.W., Howard Martin, said the violence began late in the fourth quarter, after a referee issued a technical foul to and ejected one of his players, who had been “complaining” about a call. “He made a comment to the referee. The ref didn’t like it,” Martin told ESPN.
“So the other team inbounded the ball, walked it up, the ref said to my player, ‘Say it again.’ Then he T’d him up and kicked him out of the game,” Martin added. “And he walked behind him, still having words.
“Then the ref pushed my player, and they squared up right by my bench. When they squared up, another one of my players jumped off the bench and took [the referee] down. We separated them.”
In a since-deleted tweet, Martin said the referee “attacked” his player, and that after people “tried to break it all up,” the official’s father, another referee who was working a game on an adjacent court, “ran over to our court and rushed our guys.” Martin told ESPN that after the player of his “who was involved in taking the ref down” told the arriving referee that he was responsible for that act, the official “charged the kid” and “it all went to hell.”
The coach of the opposing team, the Houston Raptors, agreed that the issuing of the technical foul began the incident, but he said that a R.A.W. player started the violence by bumping the referee with his shoulder before knocking him to the ground. “The referee definitely didn’t attack the kids,” the coach, Bobby Benjamin, told ESPN. “Absolutely not.
“Once things got going, and he was attacked . . . he got assaulted,” Benjamin continued. “They were too outnumbered to even try to defend themselves.”
“It’s unfortunate,” Josh Miley, the organizer of the tournament, said. “It’s saddening. It’s sickening. It’s hard to stomach. No adult, no kid should have to witness that.”
“Tempers got hot, one of their players hit the referee and then all hell broke loose,” a coach of a team playing on an adjacent court said to Yahoo Sports. “It’s a bad representation of AAU basketball. It’s sad.”
In response to widespread reports that the game was held under the auspices of the Amateur Athletic Union, that organization issued a statement denying any association with the tournament. “AAU is regularly and wrongly used to describe all nonscholastic travel basketball. Not all basketball events in the summer are run by the AAU organization,” the organization said.
“The incident at the non-AAU basketball event in Georgia is unfortunate,” AAU President Roger J. Goudy said. “The AAU organization takes the safety and well-being of our athletes, coaches and officials very seriously. Any such behavior is never tolerated at licensed AAU events and, for those groups who fraudulently represent themselves as AAU, we will pursue all legal remedies.”
Miley said that he and his staff are “still reviewing the video as to what might happen,” and Emerson police are reportedly also investigating the incident. Benjamin told Yahoo Sports that, as his team was maintaining a double-digit lead against its increasingly frustrated opponents, he had warned his players to steer clear of any possible altercations.
“Their players started fighting amongst each other and they were arguing with their coach,” Benjamin said. “That’s when I knew it was about to get bad. I figured if they’re going to fight with each other, they might be willing to fight anybody.”
“Now it’s all over social media, news outlets, that my kids are a bunch of thugs and a bunch of gangbangers,” Martin told ESPN. “They’re all teenage boys. One guy came to the aid of another guy, which he shouldn’t have. He should have let us handle it.”
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