When a recession-ravaged, rural area with few roads out meets an astonishing amount of football talent, there’s bound to be a few vultures in the mix. But the arrest of a Belle Glade man proves exploiting high school players can get even seedier than imagined.
Police arrested the Reverend Richard Harris, 61, on Wednesday after Palm Beach County accused him of befriending a number of high school football players with the promise of college stardom -- and then filming them in various sex acts, including a forced tryst with Harris himself.
One victim was 15 at the time of the taping, and told police he endured the abuse as it happened by focusing on his football career. After the tapes were stolen from Harris’ home and thieves recognized their peers, he fled town in shame.
Kinda makes that whole Brian Butler brouhaha seem a little tame, doesn’t it?
The Muck produces a disproportionate number of college players (it's the rabbits, according to ESPN), who are more than happy to find an alternative to the generational cycle of either fieldwork or unemployment that plagues the area.
So it’s easy to imagine that players would put their trust in a former candidate for city council who promised to hook them up with trainers, scouts, and recruiters. After all, they grew up dreaming to be the next Fred Taylor or Anquan Boldin, who made it out of the Muck and into the NFL.
Locals say Harris didn't attempt to hide his long rap sheet (with gems like fraud, possession, and assault) after it came to light when he ran for a county commission seat in 2002. "He was just a guy who was around who was a fast talker for the most part," the Patriot's Taylor told the Sun Sentinel. A "con artist."
Yet somehow, he always had access to the storied local programs, and even their locker rooms. "I don't know how the school district would allow it," said former Glades coach Willie Bueno. "He definitely was a guy you didn't want around, but sometimes you can't control everything."
In a city that recently owned the second highest rate of violent crime in the country, how would officials even begin to keep convicted criminals away from football games? What a shame it isn't different for the kids of Belle Glade and Pahokee.
And what a sad and reprehensible -- and violating -- end to the hopes of young men with few options after high school.
We fans and observers occasionally act as if football is everything, but for some growing up in forgotten towns with little sustainable infrastructure, it really is.
And the cost of that truth is far too high.