ELK RIVER (AP) -- A father accused of grabbing and yelling at his son during a game says his right to free speech was violated.
Eric Hawkins, of Elk River, filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association and others. According to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Minneapolis, a complaint brought by the association after he confronted his 10-year-old son during a game in May violates his free speech rights.
He also blames parents who said he should be banned from coaching.
Court papers show association officials found accusations of verbal and physical abuse without merit, but a hearing board decided that Hawkins violated conduct codes on inappropriate language and harassment of club players and coaches.
Hawkins, 39, did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Ellie Singer, president of the Minnetonka-based association, said she has no information about the lawsuit and no comment.
The conduct of parents and coaches has received national attention in cases where the pressure of youth sports resulted in physical harm and even murder. One of the most publicized instances was the January conviction of a Massachusetts man in the beating death of his 10-year-old son's hockey coach.
Hawkins' case stems from a May 28 soccer game in which boys younger than 11 from the Elk River United Soccer Club played against their counterparts from the Maplebrook Soccer Association.
According to court documents:
Hawkins coached the Elk River team, which included his son. During a break in the game, Hawkins noticed Jacob breaking an unspecified family rule that was not "related to the current game under way or related to the game of soccer in general."
As players prepared for the second half, Hawkins warned his son that he wouldn't be allowed to play if he broke the rule again. When his son looked away in disgust, Hawkins grabbed his son's shirt and twice asked, "Do you understand me?"
As soon as the conversation ended, Maplebrook coach Tanya Peplinski approached Hawkins, yelling, "That's physical abuse!" Hawkins told Peplinski to mind her own business.
The next month, Peplinski and the Maplebrook soccer board filed a complaint with the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association, accusing Hawkins of "verbally abusing players, verbally abusing opposing coaches and physically assaulting a player."
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