The president of the South Florida Youth Football League has promised greater surveillance of fans this fall in an attempt to deter illegal gambling. His pledge comes in response to an "Outside the Lines'" investigation this week of rampant gambling during league games.
"It is gonna change. I already see the change," Michael Spivey said. He said the report forced people to believe that gambling in the league that serves 30,000 children was a problem, and now several people are coming forward to help. "We got a lot of negative exposure from it, but then you turn a negative into a positive."
The "Outside the Lines" investigation found men holding stacks of bills -- often in large denominations -- as they watched games. Using hidden cameras, OTL recorded the men openly exchanging money with one another, even as they were just a few feet from a uniformed police officer in one instance. But the exchange of money in the stands was the small stuff, OTL found -- sometimes the games had tens of thousands of dollars bet on them, and players were often paid for making big plays.
Former players and coaches said the gambling and paying of players and their parents has gone on for years, yet some league and law enforcement officials told ESPN they were not aware of the extent of the problems until "Outside the Lines" conducted interviews and showed the officials its undercover video. One man seen on video exchanging money in a group at the league's super bowl is a longtime coach in the league and city recreation leader.
Spivey said he and other league officials have started to meet with parents and coaches about the problems. He also said additional law enforcement officers and video cameras will be at all fields in the league this fall. One thing he said he hopes parents understand is that if their children take money for playing football when they're young, it could hurt their NCAA eligibility if they're good enough later to play in college. As for the coach seen exchanging money, he said the league board met and decided against taking action against him because it could not be proved that he indeed was gambling.
After the report, several former coaches and players contacted ESPN. One of them, Nick Tandy, 21, made it from the South Florida Youth Football League to the Ivy League and plays tailback at Cornell University.
Tandy, who grew up in Pompano Beach, said people didn't used to believe him when he told them how much money people would bet on little league games in South Florida. He said in some cases, the gambling is so pervasive that "it takes more energy to not be involved in it than to be involved in it."
He said that when he was 12, there was a guy who bet $8,000 on a game that Tandy's team won. He said another game, which pitted one city against another, led to a massive brawl on the field that disrupted the play.
Some coaches would bet, too, he said, but others, including two he considered mentors, warned him to stay away from gamblers.
"[Coach] said, 'Don't get involved with that.' 'That's illegal, and only wrong comes from that,'" he said. "I stayed away."
Tandy said he was fortunate. He lived on the outskirts of the rougher neighborhoods that surrounded the parks, and his parents stressed academics from an early age. But he said teammates who lived in more crime-ridden areas faced more challenges. One of those is Rob Glover, a player featured in the "Outside the Lines" report who took money from gamblers as a boy.
Tandy and Glover would have gone to the same high school, but Glover said he wasn't able to keep his grades up and dropped out. As a boy, Tandy said he looked up to Glover, who played in a weight class just higher than his.
"Rob was a superstar in little league," Tandy said. "There are probably so many guys who are just on the corner who have more talent than some of the guys in the NFL right now."
Paula Lavigne is a reporter in ESPN's Enterprise Unit. Her work appears on "Outside the Lines." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.