Nathan Harris

Nathan Harris

Payson City Attorney Mark Sorenson would not comment on his decision to charge Mapleton youth football coach Nathan Harris with criminal assault on a young player during a recent football game in Payson. He said that any comment would not be in the city's best interest.

He is right about that, but not for the reasons he would like. Bringing charges against this coach is absurd, and any comment Sorenson might make would only be scrutinized and judged by reasonable people. That won't work out in his favor.

You needn't take our word for it. You can view an enhanced video of the incident yourself at CoachBump.notlong.com.

The boy's mother has pressed for legal action to be taken against Harris. One could wonder what special connections she has that would influence the Payson city attorney to file charges after the Utah County Attorney's Office refused because medical records did not show any serious physical injury. Perhaps Sorenson merely caved in the face of a mother's onslaught.

Zealous she is.  After the game she took her son to Primary Children's Hospital to look for a concussion. The problem with this is that after the alleged assault by Harris, she allowed her son to play the rest of the game on both offense and defense. Even if he had received an injury there would be no way to prove how he got it.

Mom's statement to a reporter shows that her anger was at least partly misguided from the start: "My son was running the ball when, out of nowhere, the other team's coach blindsided him and knocked him to the ground," she said.

Please review the video and see if this statement squares with the facts. You will see that it does not. Criminal charges are simply not appropriate in this case.

But that doesn't mean that nothing should be done. A coach experienced with 13-year-olds in youth football might reasonably feel that Harris didn't need to straight-arm the kid. Rather, he should have caught him.

At this level -- as many coaches know -- there's just not a lot of force delivered when a player runs into you. An adult can take it easily.

And so the real question to ask is whether Harris should be invited back to coach next season. That decision should be made by league organizers -- and it can come down to nothing more than instinct, as opposed to a legal burden of proof.

Did Harris have the safety of this young player uppermost in his mind as game action veered out of bounds? We daresay his split-second judgment to apply the straight-arm might have been different had it been his own son with the ball.

The video shows clearly that Harris raised his arms as the ball carrier angled off the field. This seems natural enough. He also took a half-step back with one foot, but in our view it appears that the half-step was more to brace himself than to retreat. And he locked his arms out in a rigid stance, as opposed to making a soft catch.

Yes, there was time for a gentler outcome, in our view. The brain and body work together amazingly well in athletic competition, and what may seem like an instant is really an interval in which all manner of decisions can be made. A boxer can pull a punch, for example. Anybody who has played basketball knows that in the heat of the action you can choose to stand your ground or give way to a charging opponent.

Even if Harris were hit full force, it wasn't going to hurt much. And this is an important detail. As a coach who regularly works with boys -- he himself being a large, muscular man -- he should know this.

And so we come full circle. On the pure facts of the matter, there is no criminal case. Perhaps Harris could and should have retreated, but he had no duty to do so. There certainly wasn't enough time to develop criminal intent.

Crime? Absolutely not. But fellow youth coaches could fairly judge whether Harris should be invited back to coach again. Organizers need to convene a panel of coaches to carefully review the video and then determine whether the man acted improperly.

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