Written by P. Humbargar
Edited by A. Noelle
The New York Times article, “Coaches Face New Scrutiny on Sex Abuse,” highlights how the child sexual abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator for Penn State’s football team, is impacting coaches throughout the country. Although the vast majority of coaches entrusted with our children have never been guilty of any wrongdoing, the new scrutiny that coaches are now under will help protect children from the few predatory coaches who, sadly, do exist. Because of the Sandusky case, lawmakers, sports organizations, and parents are taking action to prevent such despicable crimes against children from happening in the future.
According to the article, lawmakers in over a dozen states have introduced bills adding coaches, athletic directors, and university officials to the list of “mandated reporters” of suspected child abuse. Like teachers, social workers, and health care providers, these people would also be required to report suspected child abuse to the authorities or face significant punishment. Pennsylvania State Representative Kevin Boyle says that his bill is aimed at the conspiracy of silence that was seen at Penn State. “I want to stop institutions that keep sex abuse under wraps.” After seeing how officials at Penn State allowed Jerry Sandusky to continue having contact with children for years after he fell under suspicion, laws such as these definitely seem to be a step in the right direction.
Youth sports organizations are also doing their part to provide more protection for student athletes in response to the Sandusky case. The National Council of Youth Sports is expected to announce new guidelines that are “meant to warn sports leagues away from questionable volunteers.” Convictions or pending charges involving indecent exposure, prostitution, or crimes involving harm to a minor will be added to the list of offenses that can potentially disqualify a person from coaching. In November, Little League Baseball reiterated its guidelines for reporting abuse and for identifying potential child sex offenders. And in February, the Positive Coaching Alliance co-hosted two online seminars with kidpower.org, aimed at stopping abuse. Jim Thompson, the group’s founder said that part of the message to coaches is: “Don’t be defensive, don’t take it personally… Recognize that this is a community trying to protect kids and embrace your role as a protector of kids.”
The article also points out that, in addition to concrete changes, there have been more subtle changes. Parents are now more likely to closely scrutinize the behavior of their children’s coaches, and as a result, coaches say they are more conscious of how they communicate with players. For example, some coaches are sending more emails and texts in order to have a record should accusations ever arise. One coach, Dug Barker, said that he has become more careful about initiating hugs and is “very careful with words and phrases that can have double meanings.” Another coach, Raven Scott, stated that parents are now more inclined to be present to monitor practices even though they may not suspect misconduct. Karen Ronney, a professional tennis instructor, said that she is “extremely cautious when dealing with kids.” And Bill Garbrick, who led his team to the Little League World Series last year, said that the Sandusky scandal hit “real close to home […] If I was one of the new coaches coming into the league, I’d certainly be very cautious.”
It is sad that youth sports have been marred by sexual abuse on the part of coaches, and that many innocent coaches will now likely have their every action viewed with suspicion. But the problem of child sexual abuse in sports has been swept under the rug for far too long; and it is commendable that lawmakers and youth sports organizations are stepping up to the plate and taking action to combat the problem. As always, though, parents are children’s first line of defense against predators. It is important for parents to be involved as much as possible in their child’s sports—not only by attending games, but by encouraging children to talk about their day-to-day experiences with coaches and teammates. Having a parent or other trusted adult to confide in when something doesn’t seem quite right could very well prevent another child from becoming the victim of a vile predator.
If you’d like to read through the entire article in the New York Times, click here.