It sounds like the plot of a bad B movie: Two of the top cops in one of the nation’s largest police departments square off in court over the alleged siphoning of information about kids as young as 6 who play in competing youth football leagues.
Except in Miami, where youth football is often taken as seriously as religion, the plot is real.
The heavyweights in this tale of the titans:
▪ Maj. Craig McQueen, a 33-year Miami Police veteran who has worked through the ranks and now oversees the department’s Central District.
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▪ Maj. Delrish Moss, a 30-year cop who runs communications and has been the public face of the department during many crises.
For three decades the men have fought crime side by side. Their more-than-modest offices — at least by police standards — are across the hall from each other at police headquarters. Still, despite acknowledging the absurdity of the disagreement, they’re like rams in battle, horns locked.
They stand firm in the belief that each is wronging the other.
Moss and McQueen acknowledge they originally worked well as teammates, when both oversaw seven Police Athletic League youth football teams under the umbrella of the Pop Warner program.
But the relationship began to unravel in the spring of 2013. That’s when Moss returned from a lengthy illness and decided he wanted to switch the seven teams from Pop Warner to the Miami Xtreme league.
McQueen, who has been involved with youth football for decades and who created the PAL teams from scratch about four years ago, bolted in March after Moss decided to change leagues. He created new teams of his own in order to remain with Pop Warner.
McQueen, though, took more with him than some of the kids: He grabbed the support of PAL’s biggest sponsor, the New York nonprofit Himan Brown Foundation, which for years has provided PAL with $75,000 of the $100,000 it needs to run the teams. Moss said he’s making up the difference by increasing costs, finding new sponsors and moving donated money around.
Also gone, according to Moss: an important set of binders that lists personal information about the kids, like medical records, names and an all-important list of phone numbers of parents. McQueen won’t go into detail about the binders, saying they belong to the Pop Warner league, not him.
“The only thing I’d ask him to do, is do the right thing: Return PAL’s property,” said Moss.
McQueen wouldn’t comment on the binders, directing a reporter to ask Moss where they are. Moss said the last time he spoke to McQueen, the major told him he was going to get the books, but they never showed up.
McQueen has turned down several opportunities to comment directly on the lawsuit. He did offer background on the teams he now oversees. His attorney didn’t return phone calls or emails.
The tussle between Moss and McQueen indirectly affects about 550 kids between the ages of 6 and 14 who play in both leagues. Though the quality of the leagues can be debated, both men agree that McQueen’s decision to jump back to Pop Warner simply gives the kids an extra option of where to play.
As far as the differences between McQueen and Moss go, peel back the layers of intrigue and the scrum boils down to money — and the binders.
Moss fired the opening legal salvo in June 2013 in Miami-Dade County civil court, suing McQueen and two others on behalf of the Police Athletic League.
The lawsuit claims that before McQueen left PAL, he “surreptitiously obtained the confidential and/or proprietary information” on hundreds of kids playing football. The lawsuit says McQueen “siphoned” players and calls it a “gross dereliction of fairness and decency in civilized society.”
It asks for injunctive relief and damages “upon a theft of trade secrets.”
Moss said the PAL teams lost as many as 60 kids to Pop Warner. McQueen, whose office is stacked with youth league football trophies, says the number is closer to 10.
McQueen and his attorney, Michael Marsh, asked the judge to toss out the lawsuit, arguing personal information is not a trade secret. A jury trial is tentatively set for Jan. 28. The two leagues, which play games in parks all across Miami-Dade, run from July through November.
The significance of youth football and what it means to the different demographics of South Florida can’t be overstated. Local rap pioneer Luther Campbell remembers being bused to games in Miami Beach. He played with famed attorney Ellis Rubin’s son.
Campbell, who has run about a dozen teams for the Liberty City Optimists Club in the Pop Warner league for more than two decades, calls playing youth football “a right of passage.”
“You may end up in the band. You may become a doctor or a lawyer. But everyone plays football,” he said. “It just brings people from all walks of life. It teaches you how to be credible, responsible and work as a team.”
Of the two leagues, Pop Warner is the more prominent. Named after legendary Temple Owls football coach Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner, the league has been a pipeline to major high schools and universities around the nation for decades.
University of Miami running back Duke Johnson played Pop Warner football in Liberty City. Former UM great and Washington Redskin Sean Taylor played for the South Miami-Dade team. In fact, the league’s championship games have been named after Taylor since his death in 2007.
Still, Moss said he made the decision to switch leagues because Xtreme guarantees every child a chance to play. Pop Warner advocates say all kids play in their league, too.
“There’s an understanding in the Xtreme league that not every kid is going to be a superstar,” Moss said.
Ida Johnson’s son Tramel Jones, 13, has played for the Jets in the Xtreme league for four years. She said her son, who attends private school, prefers the league because it gives him the chance to play more.
“It teaches him to get along with others, to share more, and to make friends,” Johnson said.