The mother and other supporters of a New Jersey high school football player captured on video apparently hitting an opponent with the opponent's helmet say it was accidental and that the situation has been blown out of proportion.
"It's really frustrating. I was at the game," said Anita McDuffy, the mother of the suspended player.
Salaam Ismial, director of the Elizabeth-based United Youth Council, said Thursday that the players from Linden High School and Immaculata High School had been battling all game and that the Linden player didn't mean to hurt the other teen.
"Things like this happen in football. He didn't go up to hurt this kid. They were two bulls tangling," Ismial said.
Both teens finished the game, but a referee penalized the Linden player for unsportsmanlike conduct and the Immaculata player was taken to a hospital after the game, where he received 10 stitches for a contusion.
McDuffy said her son told her his hand got stuck in the opposing player's helmet. Her son has apologized, she said.
"I believe my child," she said. "I'm not saying he's right for what happened. I'm not saying he's wrong. I'm going to stand by my son."
The Linden player was removed from the team and the school district says it is pursuing the severest discipline permitted against him. Linden police have also investigated, and Police Captain James Sarnicki said they've handed over their investigation to the prosecutor's office for final determination. No charges have been filed, but Sarnicki said he expects to hear back from prosecutors if charges are preferred.
McDuffy said once video of the incident went viral, her family was unfairly scrutinized on social media and that some people characterized the incident as racial in nature.
"Everyone has their opinions on what's going on with this, but to go to race? It's not a race thing. To say his dad should hit him upside the head with a bat, that's too much," she said.
A family friend added, "This kid and his family have been crucified over an accident."
McDuffy said her son has been suspended from school for 10 days. She said he was originally told he was suspended from the team for two days, but the punishment was increased after the story became national news. She doesn't think the punishment is fair, but the schools superintendent disagreed.
"I feel the consequences are appropriate, considering the seriousness of the incident," said Linden Schools Superintendent Danny Robertozzi.
Immaculata won the game 26-6.