Edinburg football player who tackled referee apologizes via YouTube

With his mother and father by his side, Emmanuel Duron, the Edinburg High School football player who made national headlines earlier this month for tackling a referee who had ejected him from a game, apologized to the official, his school and teammates in a YouTube video that in less than 24 hours has already garnered more than 14,000 views.

Video capturing the incident, which occurred at the Dec. 3 high school football game pitting Edinburg High against PSJA High at Richard R. Flores Stadium in Edinburg, went viral with 3.5 million views as of Friday, prompting visceral reactions on a national level from many outraged by the high school senior’s actions.

“I know much has been said about me, and I would like to say a few words today,” Duron said at the onset of the video, which showed him and his parents sitting on a couch and speaking directly to the camera. “To Mr. Fred Gracia, I would like to apologize to you personally. I hope you’re doing well. I am extremely sorry for my actions towards you, and I hope one day you can accept my apology.”

After being ejected from the Dec. 3 game in question, Duron, an 18-year-old defensive lineman, ran back onto the field and delivered a blindside hit on referee Fred Gracia with such force that it launched the 58-year-old official into the air, falling backwards.

Gracia had laid on the field for several minutes while being attended to by team personnel before finally being able to walk off the field on his own. He was evaluated for a potential shoulder injury and concussion-like symptoms, and was taken to a hospital where he was later discharged.

Duron was immediately escorted out of the stadium by four Edinburg CISD police officers. The next morning, Duron was charged with class A assault and booked into Hidalgo County jail on a $10,000 bond, which he quickly posted.

And although Edinburg had secured a playoff spot by defeating PSJA High 35-21 in that game, Edinburg school district officials voluntarily removed the team from the postseason just one day after the incident.

The University Interscholastic League then voted on Dec. 14 to penalize Edinburg High School due to Duron’s actions, placing the school’s athletic programs on probation, which began immediately and will last through the 2022-23 school year.

Duron was also suspended from all UIL-sanctioned activities for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year while head coach JJ Leija was placed on a one-year probationary period beginning with the 2021-22 school year.

More “severe” punishments — such as disqualifying the school’s athletic programs from their respective postseasons for up to three years — are possible if additional infractions occur. Such punishments may also include suspending Leija from coaching in UIL-sanctioned events under the same circumstances.

“To my teammates, I’d like for y’all to please accept my apology for putting y’all into this bad situation and letting y’all forfeit the playoffs. I hope y’all can please accept my apology,” Duron said in his video apology, in which he also expressed remorse to his parents, school officials and coaches as well as the public. “To my mom and dad, I am extremely sorry for putting them into this tough situation. I want to thank them for being there in my life and impacting me with good advice and for never letting me down. I’m sorry to the school administrators and my coaches. I’m extremely sorry for my actions and for bringing negative attention towards the district.

“Finally, I would like to apologize to all the people that got offended by the video. I will work extremely hard to prove to y’all that who you saw in the video is not me.”

Duron’s attorney, Jose Antonio Solis of Edinburg-based De La Fuente & Solis PLLC, shared the video’s link in an email to several media outlets Thursday evening, stating that Duron would not speak further “on the advice of counsel.”