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Whitlock: Football coaches assert Aqib Talib sparked deadly Pee Wee football tragedy in Texas. Talib lawyer: ‘Inaccurate.’

Three eyewitnesses claim that five-time NFL Pro Bowler Aqib Talib instigated the Pee Wee football brawl that led to the on-field shooting death of coach Mike Hickmon in Texas.

Early Saturday evening, near the conclusion of a 9-and-under football scrimmage in Lancaster, Hickmon scuffled with opposing coaches representing the North Dallas United Bobcats, a team organized and financed by Talib and his older brother Yaqub Talib. During the melee, witnesses say Hickmon struck Aqib Talib with a yard marker.

The fracas ended when a man wearing a black hoodie fired five shots at Hickmon, killing the 43-year-old assistant coach. Lancaster police identified Yaqub Talib as the shooter. Yaqub turned himself in to law enforcement Monday afternoon.

Coaches for the Dragon Elite Academy, the team Hickmon served as an assistant coach, blame Aqib Talib for sparking the tragedy.

“Aqib incited the whole uproar,” Dragon Elite coach Kerry Lewis said during a phone interview Monday night. “The game would’ve never been stopped had Aqib not come over to our sideline to yell at the refs.”

Dragon Elite defensive coordinator Marty Barnett added: “Aqib started this. He was the first person to throw a punch. Out of all of the people, he was the one person who could have de-escalated the situation. He was the one person we all would’ve listened to. He could’ve stopped it all.”

Aqib Talib’s attorney, Frank Perez, strongly disputed the accusation that his client sparked the brawl.

“That story is inaccurate,” Perez said Tuesday afternoon. “You need to talk with all of the witnesses, not just the opposing coaches. I will be more than happy to make a statement at the end of the week, when we’ve conducted a full investigation.”

On Monday, TMZ reported that Talib’s lawyer acknowledged Aqib’s presence at the skirmish: “Aqib was present when this unfortunate incident occurred and is very distraught and devastated over this terrible loss of life. … He would like to convey his condolences to the family of the victim and to everyone who witnessed this unfortunate tragedy.”

Here’s how Lewis, Barnett, and a third assistant, Heith Mayes, described the events that led to the fatal shooting.

With approximately six minutes left in the scrimmage, the referees flagged a North Dallas United defensive player for a late hit, giving Dragon Elite a first down. One play later, Dragon Elite scored a go-ahead touchdown.

“Aqib got irate at that point,” Heith Mayes said.

According to Barnett, Lewis, and Mayes, Aqib walked across the football field to confront a referee. Lewis said Aqib threatened the ref. “I oughta sock your bitch ass now,” the assistants remember Aqib barking.

“That’s what was so weird. All of the tension was between them and the refs,” Barnett said. “There was no problem between the coaches. We all know each other. Kerry Lewis and Yaqub have coached together. I followed Aqib’s whole career, starting at Kansas. The other thing is that it was their event. They were the hosts. They hired and paid the refs. The refs weren’t cheating for us.”

According to Barnett, Lewis, and Mayes, the refs called the game with six minutes to play because the North Dallas coaches persisted with verbal threats and profanity. Dragon Elite coaches gathered their players at midfield for the postgame handshake line. Hickmon’s son is the quarterback for the Dragons. His son’s personal football was near the goal line, where it had been placed in anticipation of a 2-point conversion try. Hickmon, who was working the yard marker, went to retrieve his son’s football.

According to Mayes, as Hickmon attempted to pick up the football, a man working the first-down chains kicked the football into an area where the North Dallas coaches were gathered. Hickmon walked to the area with the yard marker in tow. The North Dallas coaches and Hickmon exchanged harsh words. As Hickmon bent over to pick up the ball, according to Mayes, Aqib Talib swung at Hickmon. Hickmon retaliated, striking Talib with the yard marker.

Isolated and surrounded by angry opposing coaches, Hickmon retreated. Video footage shows Hickmon fending off a half-dozen people, including a woman who appears to be Aqib’s wife, with the yard marker. The mob knocked him to the ground. He dropped the pole. As he climbed to his feet, with nothing in his hand, a gunman unloaded five shots.

“There’s no justification for having a weapon at a kids’ football game,” Lewis said. “It’s 90 degrees outside and you’re wearing a black hoodie. None of it makes sense. Our babies were all there. Yaqub’s kids were there. Mike’s kids. Football fields are supposed to be a safe haven for these kids. This is where they go to get away from the street life. They come here to feel safe. It’s not like that any more.”

Aqib Talib was no stranger to trouble during his decorated 12-year NFL career.

In 2008, he engaged in a brawl at the NFL rookie symposium. In 2009, he was arrested after an altercation with a taxi driver. In 2011, Aqib and his mother were suspected of firing a gun at his sister’s boyfriend. In 2016, Talib attacked Tennessee Titans receiver Harry Douglas on the sideline. After the game, Talib told reporters that he would “beat Douglas’ ass” the next time he saw him at their agent’s office. In 2017, Aqib and Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree had an ugly on-field skirmish. Aqib snatched a gold chain from Crabtree’s neck.

In 2014, Dallas police mistakenly announced that they arrested Aqib for public intoxication and throwing bottles inside a nightclub. Police had to retract the announcement when they realized they’d arrested his brother, Yaqub.

One final note: Mike Hickmon’s sister, Jennifer Hickmon, was murdered in July 2020. Yesterday, I reported she had been murdered in July 2021.