Common assault?
April 10, 2021 12:03 PM   Subscribe

How do we process what happened on the rugby pitch?

My 7-year-old nephew plays in a rugby league team. He is very good at the game. A couple of days ago during a practise the following happened: He had the ball and was running down the pitch and as he was crossing the line to score a try, the manager of the team jumped on him from behind and knocked him to the floor. The manager then got up off my nephew. My nephew didn’t get up for a couple of minutes. When he did get up he was badly shaken, had suffered a bruise to his face and was bleeding slightly from his nostril.
The manager is 17 stones in weight. All the spectators were totally gobsmacked. My sister was in complete shock and went over. All she could manage to say to the manager was “I don’t understand why you did that?” The manager just walked away. She went home and phoned the two coaches who were at the training practice. They both said they couldn’t understand what had got into the manager and why he had done what he did. They are due to have a meeting with him tomorrow.
Background: The manager is a volunteer as are the coaches. The manager’s son is a school friend of my nephew. The manager’s son also plays on the team. There have been other incidents where the manager has excluded my nephew from playing in matches, from not letting him take an equal turn and always putting him as a sub. The manager himself is very competitive and is also a former rugby player. The coaches give verbal instructions but don’t get physically involved in the game. The manager is just supposed to watch from the sidelines.
My sister was on very friendly terms with the manager and his wife. She has confided in her a lot. His wife knows my sister’s circumstances of being a single parent and of my nephew never having met his father. Neither of them have contacted her to ask how my nephew is or to apologise in any way.
The couple are very well-known and influential in the community. My sister doesn’t quite know how to proceed. My nephew loves playing rugby and loves being part of this team. We are looking for some advice and help in processing what has happened.
posted by charlen to Human Relations (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
If possible, your sister should be at the meeting to advocate for your nephew. I have no idea why he did that but it's best not to let it pass between the manager and the coaches, especially if he's well-known around town.
posted by kingdead at 12:10 PM on April 10 [13 favorites]


I'd start asking around to see if anyone happened to catch that on video. This sounds really bizarre to me. What kind of grown adult tackles a seven year old child?!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:25 PM on April 10 [45 favorites]


Also, she should take pics of his injuries NOW.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:26 PM on April 10 [42 favorites]


I would say that it is not safe for this child, or any child, to participate in an activity with this person nearby. The manager needs to go, and if he does not, then your sister needs to find another team for her kid to play on. Life long injuries could come from the existing situation (he almost certainly got a concussion from this incident).
posted by rockindata at 12:34 PM on April 10 [52 favorites]


Frankly, I'd be calling the police. That isn't a case of a sporting injury or even bad sportsmanship. That adult assaulted your nephew.
posted by Leud at 12:35 PM on April 10 [125 favorites]


Wow, this sounds incredibly egregious and unsafe! I wondered if there might be a code of conduct or similar document that might outline the boundaries of acceptance behaviour and the complaints mechanisms? E.g. In Australia there's this doc from Rugby Australia, but it looks like things are managed more locally in the UK.
posted by Cheese Monster at 12:38 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


the manager of the team jumped on him from behind and knocked him to the floor. The manager then got up off my nephew.

I would contact the police. This is almost certainly an egregious and blatant crime in almost any common law jurisdiction that is influenced by English law (e.g. US, UK, Australia, etc.). Also, what the FUCK. Wow. These people are fucked up and I'm so sorry that they're influential in the community. Jesus.

I will say that often "influential" people who are terrible often have a lot of people waiting in the wings, waiting to get revenge for being treated badly -- their "influence" tends to collapse fairly quickly.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:08 PM on April 10 [22 favorites]


For those not familiar, 17 stones = 238 pounds.

The manager shouldn't be working with children. This should be taken seriously. Your nephew was hurt, and could have been hurt even more.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 1:09 PM on April 10 [25 favorites]


Also, if UK, there may be safeguarding considerations in play here -- my understanding is that these can range from internal rules (within organizations) to legal obligations or both, depending on the situation.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:10 PM on April 10 [5 favorites]


If you feel like your sister and your nephew need somebody on their side, maybe consider calling this organization and asking for advice. Personally, I'd also be on the phone to the police and to a good lawyer as well.
posted by sardonyx at 1:15 PM on April 10 [3 favorites]


At the very least, the guy needs to explain what he was thinking, because yeah, that’s bizarre AF. Trying to see his side of the story, maybe he was excited about the try and was trying to celebrate with your nephew and didn’t realize how big the size difference was? That seems unlikely based on the rest of the story and, you know, common sense. I just can’t think of any other good faith reasons to do that.

The thing is, even if it somehow was in good faith, it’s still really dangerous and inappropriate. After talking to the guy, your sister needs to contact someone up the food chain: club administrators, league officials, whoever is letting the guy around kids. Best case scenario, he needs significantly more training on how to coach kids. But yeah, just in case the best case scenario doesn’t play out, document the kid’s injuries and get other people who were there to share their observations in writing. Even if it’s just a text saying that they say it, that’ll come in handy if worse comes to worst.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:19 PM on April 10 [4 favorites]


Best answer: Several years ago in my area a parent reported a very long tenured Girl Scout volunteer who bemoaned the influx of "n—r girls" into the Service Unit in front her Daisy scouts. It was difficult and socially ruinous in several ways to remove this volunteer, but it got done. Some loyalists left in protest. Good riddance.

Allowing an adult who is problematic to stay in a position like this around children grooms children to be comfortable with the mistreatment of others and themselves. If we don't do everything in our power to remove the problematic adult, we are all complicit.

The manager was wrong. Period, full stop. That's not even in question. The hard part will be all of the social fallout that comes with removing him from his position by all possible means. And that will always be ok. It is ok to hurt the feelings of other adults who choose to protect an abuser. The children's physical and emotional safety come first.
posted by phunniemee at 1:23 PM on April 10 [76 favorites]


My father did something less bad, but like this, at one of my brother’s rugby matches. He was also a former very competitive rugby player. At one match when he saw a bigger boy get the ball and run for a try, my father unprompted stuck his leg out to trip him from the sideline. The boy was uninjured, and my father was deeply ashamed. He couldn’t really explain it, except he thought he was helping “the team”. I think the manager should be removed from any position of responsibility in the team, but I doubt there was any malicious intent here, just wildly bad judgement clouded by over competitiveness.
posted by roofus at 1:24 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Also, if UK, there may be safeguarding considerations in play here

This this this. Resources here if you're in England.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:32 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Nthing everyone saying it does not matter why the manager did that, what he did is wrong and troubling. Large adults don't get to tackle and hurt 7 year-old kids! Not only should the manager not be allowed to be a manager, but he shouldn't be allowed to attend future games. If they suggest any solution less than that, I think this is an instance where yeah, it's worth getting the police involved.
posted by coffeecat at 1:40 PM on April 10 [14 favorites]


I came to suggest the Sports Integrity Hotline referenced above. A friend of mine called them about a situation involving her pre-teen's hockey team and they were very helpful. I'd also suggest getting the child to a doctor asap, and being prepared to talk to a lawyer after that. What this guy did was dangerous and definitely not okay.

However, the thing that worries me even more is that his behaviour was not enough to stop everyone at that game in their tracks and force him to at a minimum explain himself and make things right with your nephew. If that guy is behaving this way, he's not safe around anybody's children, and if the other adults are tolerating and minimizing that kind of thing, no kid is safe around them. That goes triple if he's been targeting your nephew in other ways. Things like that are rarely a one-off.
posted by rpfields at 1:43 PM on April 10 [16 favorites]


This is assault and should be reported to the police as such. He’s literally four times the size of this kid. I’m absolutely horrified.
posted by mochapickle at 2:09 PM on April 10 [9 favorites]


Best answer: I work for the governing body of a different sport, based in the UK, so my answer is based on that and YMMV:

1. Photograph the injuries and absolutely report it to the police asap.
2. At least in my sport, all clubs are required to have an appointed welfare officer who has completed safeguarding training. In addition to that, the sport's national governing body will have a welfare officer of its own that anybody in the sport can contact with welfare concerns (because, obviously, in small sports clubs the welfare officer will often be friends with the other adults in the club, and may not feel like a safe person to report abusive behaviour to). I'd suggest contacting the NGB's welfare officer and reporting it to them asap, and tell them you've reported the incident to the police (or are going to).

I'm not sure where you are, but the mention of '17 stone' suggests the UK - if so, I've pulled out the contact details for you from the various NGB websites - safeguarding and welfare are generally dealt with at Home Countries level rather than UK-level:

England - the RFU, this page has a phone number for the RFU safeguarding line and also says you can call the NSPCC, which sounds like a good idea if you want advice and a sanity check.
Scotland - Scottish Rugby don't make this easy, but this page has a 'Report a Concern' form (a pdf of all things which you're presumably supposed to print off and hand write your concerns into *rolls eyes*) but at the bottom of the pdf it has the following contact details: safeguarding@sru.org.uk Safeguarding Team 0131 346 5000 - I would contact them directly in the first instance and say you think this person isn't safe to coach at all and needs to be suspended forthwith, you can follow up with whatever paperwork they want after the call. You could also call Children 1st (the national children's charity) - I believe their Parentline helpline is a bit of a misnomer and you can call even if you're not a parent; or call the landline on their footer and let them direct you to the most appropriate person. Worth noting that in Scotland, sports coaches have the same 'position of trust' status as teachers, and are legally obliged to report welfare concerns to the proper authorities.
Wales - The WRU, this page has an email address and phone number for the Safeguarding Manager
Northern Ireland - The IRFU, this page has an online reporting form, implies that they prefer to get reports from club welfare officers, but says it is, in fact, open to anyone to use.

If you're not in the UK and need a hand to look for the equivalents elsewhere, Memail me, I'm happy to help, information is sometimes hidden away in awkward places but I run an NGB website and might have more luck finding my way through the maze.

I would not at this stage, agree for anybody to go to a meeting at the club that was only between the involved parties - eg. if his pals try and call an informal meeting where he apologises and everything's supposed to then carry on as before. Wait until someone in a position of authority is investigating and can oversee the process (I think if I'm reading right, your nephew's not going to the meeting, it's between the coaches and this guy?). I guess in theory the NGB might say you have to have attempted to resolve the issue locally first, but really, for something like this, I would think they should be swooping in and suspending his coaching licence instantly pending investigation, and that takes someone above club level.

Memail me if you need to - I'm not in rugby and not in welfare/safeguarding, but if I can help I will.
posted by penguin pie at 3:01 PM on April 10 [37 favorites]


Ach, sorry, just realised you said rugby league, they maybe have different NGBs... lemme go check those for you.
posted by penguin pie at 3:18 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


Best answer: My sister was on very friendly terms with the manager and his wife. She has confided in her a lot. His wife knows my sister’s circumstances of being a single parent and of my nephew never having met his father. Neither of them have contacted her to ask how my nephew is or to apologise in any way.
The couple are very well-known and influential in the community. My sister doesn’t quite know how to proceed.


It's hard to tell from the question how heavily the social aspects are weighing on your sister. I think what she needs to do is first figure out what outcome(s) she ultimately wants, and then proceed with those outcomes in mind. Examples of things she might want are for the manager to be immediately dismissed from the team; her son to keep playing on the team; a process put into place in the team so that if something like this ever happens again, the injured family isn't left uncertain about next steps and the matter isn't dragged out over several days the way it is now; a process to prevent players from being treated unequally; an apology from the people in charge and from the manager; an explicit commitment to the children's safety; etc. She might also want more potentially difficult things, like for her son's friendship to not be damaged; to not feel worried about her son's friend's father when son is hanging out with friend; for her social standing to not be damaged; for her relationship with the manager's wife to survive. She has to prioritize among these things, in case they're not all possible. FWIW, I think the priority needs to be safety before anything else, and that involves making sure her son is never in a position where he can get hurt by the manager.

I second the suggestion of getting as much documentation as can be had: pictures of the injuries, a doctor's report, video or written testimonies from the other spectators, and anything else that might be relevant. She might not need to use them, but they're absolutely important to have on hand, and asking the other spectators for their impressions of the event could help her identify people who would support her if needed.

She went home and phoned the two coaches who were at the training practice. They both said they couldn’t understand what had got into the manager and why he had done what he did. They are due to have a meeting with him tomorrow.

Have the two coaches been following up, apologizing, checking in on your nephew and sister, and so on? Because if not, that's not a good sign that they're taking this seriously.
posted by trig at 3:24 PM on April 10 [7 favorites]


Your poor nephew! Seven year olds are tiny and vulnerable. It just breaks my heart to think of a seven year old being tackled by a (very large!) adult. I mean, this is assault! He is bruised and had a bloody nose. Truly, wtf. You might want to suggest to your sister that she find someone (a counsellor-type person) for your nephew to talk to so he can process this. I am an adult, and I sure as hell would need to process it if someone in a position of authority who weighed four times what I did tackled me by surprise and injured me like that. I agree with everyone above who says this manager is completely in the wrong and children are unsafe while he's near the pitch.

I also urge you to follow penguin pie's advice that your sister and nephew not meet alone with the manager and/or coaching team, no matter what.

The upside is this was witnessed by many, many people. It is not just your sister and nephew's word against the manager's.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:32 PM on April 10 [3 favorites]


Best answer: Just in response to trig's point - it's a good idea for her to parse out the emotional element from everything else, for her own benefit, but one thing that seems clear is that this is a person who's not safe to coach children and who should be subject to some kind of scrutiny before somebody gets more seriously hurt. Reporting the incident to the proper authorities (which she should absolutely do) will trigger official processes where the outcomes aren't for her to decide, but will be (at least should be) made in the best interests of all the children who are coached by him, or might be in future. Child safeguarding in sport is no longer - fortunately - a matter of "What do we all think is for the best here? Let's all chat about it," - it's highly regulated, even at the level of kids playing in the park - especially at that level, because kids are so especially vulnerable. That does at least take the pressure of decision away from your sister - she should definitely report it, and after that the outcome will be out of her hands.

Anyway - here are the rugby league NGB welfare contacts for the Home Countries:

England - RFL - Safeguarding manager contact details
Scotland Rugby League - Safeguarding policy says: Player welfare manager is responsible for all aspects of child wellbeing and protection in sport. The PWM can be contacted via email – safeguarding@scotlandrl.com or via telephone - [name] 07760265613.
Wales Rugby League - Report a concern page with email and phone number.
Rugby League Ireland has an abjectly poor website (literally has blocks of loreum ipsum in places) and can only offer up this general contact form.
posted by penguin pie at 3:36 PM on April 10 [14 favorites]


My nephew didn’t get up for a couple of minutes. When he did get up he was badly shaken, had suffered a bruise to his face and was bleeding slightly from his nostril

If that happened to one of my kids, among other things I'd have them checked out by a doctor for a concussion. I've taken mine to the ER for less, fearing head injuries, and the doctors there affirmed that I'd done the right thing.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:59 PM on April 10 [27 favorites]


Sorry - one final suggestion - if she's not done it already, it might be useful for your sister to write down an account of what she saw and what was said/done by all parties afterwards, while it's still fresh in her memory, in something like a word doc that will preserve the date she wrote it. At the very least, it'll help her keep it fresh in her mind and help prevent later self-doubt, which can sometimes creep in when you've seen something so totally "WTF?". It may also come in handy if the welfare officers are investigating. It's not like it's a legally-binding document, but if there's an investigation, that takes a while to play out, and the welfare officer is having to weigh up conflicting accounts of what happened, there's something more convincing about "Here's the written account of what I saw, written the day after the event" rather than "This is what I can remember about it, recalled a month down the line". If she knows some of the other parents who saw it, she could perhaps ask them to do the same. (This one, tbf, courtesy of my previous life as a journalist - you always write a contemporaneous account of events as soon as anything potentially troublesome happens).

While she should obviously provide whatever emotional support her son needs, she may not want to probe in detail for his complete account of it in the same way, because there's a lot of stuff about not asking leading questions that can come into play and it may be better done by someone who knows their way around those pitfalls. As I say, his emotional needs come first, but she doesn't need to feel compelled to play Sherlock and gather his evidence. (Actually - that's probably more relevant for things that happened behind closed doors, if this was witnessed by lots of people, maybe not so much).
posted by penguin pie at 4:06 PM on April 10 [11 favorites]


I think she should have a lawyer with her for moral support at the very least, but mostly so she doesn't get railroaded. I'm so sorry this happened to the child.
posted by theora55 at 5:48 PM on April 10 [3 favorites]


Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for your responses. Some really useful information here.

It's hard to tell from the question how heavily the social aspects are weighing on your sister. I think what she needs to do is first figure out what outcome(s) she ultimately wants, and then proceed with those outcomes in mind. Examples of things she might want are for the manager to be immediately dismissed from the team; her son to keep playing on the team; a process put into place in the team so that if something like this ever happens again, the injured family isn't left uncertain about next steps and the matter isn't dragged out over several days the way it is now; a process to prevent players from being treated unequally; an apology from the people in charge and from the manager; an explicit commitment to the children's safety; etc. She might also want more potentially difficult things, like for her son's friendship to not be damaged; to not feel worried about her son's friend's father when son is hanging out with friend; for her social standing to not be damaged; for her relationship with the manager's wife to survive. She has to prioritize among these things, in case they're not all possible. FWIW, I think the priority needs to be safety before anything else, and that involves making sure her son is never in a position where he can get hurt by the manager.

I think this is what she is most struggling with. She doesn’t want to go down the route of reporting it to the police for all of the reasons above. She is hoping to seek retribution via the club organisers. She has plans to move him over to another team.

I am so very grateful for the advice and support of this community.
posted by charlen at 2:24 AM on April 11 [2 favorites]


Best answer: I am in the UK and have received safeguarding training as part of my job role. The good thing about raising a safeguarding concern is that you're not actually the one who's making the call about whether this goes to the police. Instead you're escalating it to a non-police safeguarding officer, who is required to make contact with any requisite bodies, including but not limited to police and social services, if it meets a certain threshold - but that's not your call, it's theirs. You don't have to investigate, find out the ins and outs, work out why he did it or if there were mitigating circumstances, or anything else - that's something that the safeguarding team will do as necessary, and they have to do it in a way that is fair and moreover clearly documented; if they don't do a good job, they are legally responsible. It's also not something that the original reporting person's name is attached to; anyone can raise a safeguarding concern. Indeed, you yourself can make a safeguarding report without even involving your sister. The systems we have in place are designed to avoid exactly the situation where someone feels torn between personal loyalty and the need to protect children or other vulnerable people from harm.
posted by Acheman at 3:16 AM on April 11 [9 favorites]


Response by poster: Just to update, before any meeting had taken place, the manager announced on social media that he is resigning due to a parental complaint.
posted by charlen at 7:19 AM on April 11 [17 favorites]


Best answer: That's something - but I'd still encourage you or your sister to register your concerns with an NGB welfare officer - if he's resigned from the club, that doesn't stop him getting involved with another club now or in the future, where nobody knows about this incident. Ideally this should be held permanently on a central record and somebody should look at the situation and decide whether he's suitable to ever coach young people.
posted by penguin pie at 8:06 AM on April 11 [32 favorites]


Strongly agree with penguin pie above. Even the phrasing of the manager's social media post is concerning- he's not resigning because a parent complained, he's resigning because he assaulted a young child!
posted by coffeecat at 9:44 AM on April 11 [28 favorites]


Just to add to Penguin Pie's comments, there's also organisations like Sport England that have broader responsibility to the sector - they have a safeguarding page here that might have useful information. (If you're not in England and can't find the relevant organisation I'd be happy to help; I used to work for the New Zealand equivalent).

I'm sorry this happened, it's absolutely awful.
posted by Pink Frost at 1:23 PM on April 11


As it hasn't been mentioned so far, and as you seem to be in the UK, I thought I would point out that, from your description, it is likely that the requirements are satisfied for the manager's conduct to be characterised as an assault occasioning actual bodily harm, contrary to section 47 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861. The offence is punishable with a prison term of up to five years.
posted by Pechorin at 1:24 PM on April 11 [2 favorites]


I'm glad this man will no longer be in proximity to your nephew, but I agree strongly with others who point out that this will not stop him from doing something similar to another kid.

I also remain concerned about the apparent lack of understanding and remorse on the manager's part and also on the part of the organization. They should all have been grovelling to your nephew and his mother within nanoseconds of the incident, and the fact that they are not makes me wonder about the safety of any child around them.

At a minimum, the mother is in a position to ask for some changes to the policy and governance of this group to make sure no other family has to go through this.
posted by rpfields at 4:01 PM on April 11 [3 favorites]


if they did this to one kid they could do it to another.
posted by evilmonk at 4:09 PM on April 11 [3 favorites]


Best answer: In a parent/child soccer match some years ago, I (weighing 180 pounds) tripped a fell on a teen-ager, the coach's son, who was older than the players (he often helped out). It really was an accident, and everyone accepted it as such: I was about 40 at the time, and playing soccer in hiking boots. (And I didn't even want to play....) I helped him up, and apologized, and he nodded and jogged off. His parents weren't angry.

THIS IS NOT THAT.

In your case, the league should be involved, because they need to face his actions and remove him. The police could be involved, so there is a "paper trail" history of this misbehavior in case he does it again, and/or so he can face a penalty for this.

In the end, the boy deserves to see his family advocating for him, and every person who was there needs the message that "adults tackling children is not acceptable." It will suuuuck for your sister, but everye will be better for it
posted by wenestvedt at 6:26 AM on April 12 [3 favorites]


Please press charges.
This attack needs to be fully documented if not prosecuted.
This person sounds unhinged and dangerous and has violently demonstrated that he can not be trusted to work with children.

I hope your nephew is okay both physically and emotionally, and that he understands that none of this was his fault.
posted by blueberry at 5:37 PM on April 12 [2 favorites]


First, very sorry this happened to your nephew. It is extremely disturbing for someone around children, even in a "relatively" violent sport such as rugby, to lose control like that.

I have a sense that your sister is trying to walk a fine rope, trying to see some justice done without making it a "she vs them" issue that end up ostracizing manager's family from the community, or worse, have your sister ostracized from the community for "going too far".

Yet the manager's attitude so far is a bit disturbing. It's almost as if he's expecting to be sued, so he's saying absolutely nothing that could be used against him, but this is not a criminal trial, and there are dozens, hundred witnesses, and probably plenty of recordings as well.

So what does your sister want? Would a public apology do? And promise to take some anger management classes? And stay away from children's sports events that can trigger him like that? (I'm just throwing out ideas) And maybe your sister promise not to bring this up in court or law? Or will money and the law enter this at some point?

Think about that.

As the manager is resigning, I guess the team / league can't touch him now. But that doesn't give your sister any resolution.

Someone needs to talk to them either for your sister or with your sister. Maybe even a press conference where you all together announce a resolution to all this. Or this will end up hanging over this league and both families. Someone needs to take the lead.
posted by kschang at 3:02 AM on April 27


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