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"Friday Night Lights" author weighs in on recent HS football violence – CBS News

Millions of Americans spend their Friday nights watching high school football. But recent cases of players attacking referees, and each other, are throwing a shadow over the great American tradition, and some critics are asking if the game has gotten out of hand, reports CBS News correspondent David Begnaud.

The most recent incident to make headlines Saturday occurred at a football game in San Antonio, Texas, the leading state in high school athletes in the nation where nearly 164,000 of them play football, more than California, Georgia and Oklahoma combined.

Video shows quarterback Zeke Cardenas being escorted out after he assaulted a referee, and he was kicked off his team and suspended from school for three days.

Cardenas is not alone.

On Friday in New Jersey, Senior Fritz Moncion appeared to yank an opponent’s helmet off and strike him in the head with it. He too received a suspension and was cut from the team.

And a week earlier, near Austin, a referee was blindsided, then hit by two members of the John Jay Mustangs. The players were suspended along with an assistant coach, and face possible criminal charges.

“I’ve seen kids that will shove a ref or football players, but nothing like that,” said Buzz Bissinger, author of the high school football classic, “Friday Night Lights,” first published 25 years ago. Bissinger says many of the excesses he wrote about remain today.

“It is a violent game. And I love the violence. But the violence has to be confined to the field of play,” said Bissinger, who thinks bad behavior seen at the professional and college levels inevitably trickles down to the high school game. “They think–well, man, this is the way to do it!”

D. W. Rutledge, who coached high school football for 27 years and won four state championships, believes recent problems on the field reflect broader societal issues.

“In our country, the American family has changed…and the lack of respect for authority is one of the things that we saw the other night that is really, really concerning,” he said.

Rutledge, now the executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association, supports a zero tolerance policy for athletes and coaches.

“When they make really, really bad choices, really poor choices, there needs to be really, really hard penalties that go along with that,” he said, also pointing out that despite the incident in Austin, there were over 600 games played that night across Texas that had no other major problems.

Rutledge also said one of the goals of his organization is convincing coaches and players to lose the win-at-all-costs mentality, which he says may be contributing to some of the violence.

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