Supporters of high school player: Helmet strike was accident

LINDEN, N.J. (AP) Supporters of a high school football player captured on video hitting an opponent with the opponent's helmet said Thursday that it was an accident and has been blown out of proportion.

Salaam Ismial, director of the Elizabeth-based United Youth Council, said the players from Linden High School and Immaculata High School had been battling all game Sept. 11 and 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.

The 18-year-old Linden player was taken off the team, and the school district said it is pursuing the severest discipline possible. Linden police Capt. James Sarnicki said the investigation has been sent to the Union County prosecutor's office to consider whether to bring charges.

The Linden player's mother, Anita McDuffy, said he has been suspended 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.

''He really is apologetic about this. He said his hand got stuck in the helmet. I believe in my child,'' McDuffy told reporters at a news conference Thursday. ''If it was so bad, which it was a bad incident, they should have taken him out of the game. They allowed him to play the third and fourth quarter. He apologized to the student.''

The Associated Press isn't naming the Linden player because he hasn't been charged with a crime.

A referee penalized the Linden player for unsportsmanlike conduct. After the game, the Immaculata player was taken to a hospital, where he received 10 stitches. Both players remained in the game, and neither was ejected.

Immaculata said it received an apology from Linden school officials, and McDuffy said her son planned to apologize to the school.

Immaculata won the game 26-6.

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