- Former Penn State Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky is charged with 40 felony counts relating to alleged sexual abuse of eight young boys, resulting in the firing of several school administrators, including Head Coach Joe Paterno. The New York Times reports ten other alleged victims have since come forward.
-Two adult men accuse Syracuse Associate Head Basketball Coach Bernie Fine of sexual abuse spanning more than a decade, resulting in Fine being placed on administrative leave.
-Former U.S. Olympics gymnastics coach Don Peters is permanently banned from the sport and removed from the Hall of Fame after an investigation of sexual abuse involving two teenage girls.
And that was just in the last 10 days!
Whether or not such allegations are true or false, it’s been a rough week for the athletic coaching profession.
The flood gates have officially opened as one person speaking out typically provokes bravery in victims who were once too afraid or ashamed to come forward with their stories. A single accusation can also get the attention of fame-seekers who don’t care how many lives they ruin en route to those precious 15 minutes.
Perhaps the scariest piece of this puzzle is the fact that coaches, the men and women who are supposed to teach and care for our children, might be child predators.
I come from a family of teachers, some of whom have coached sports in public schools. Most of my favorite teachers in high school were also the coaches of various athletic teams. I have had nothing but wonderful experiences with the coaches I know.
Having said that, I stumbled upon some scary facts regarding coaches and sexual abuse.
The Seattle Times published a story in December 2003 called “Coaches Who Prey. The Abuse of Girls And The System That Allows It,” written by Christine Willmsen and Maureen O’Hagan. The article covers several topics including different cases in Washington state of coaches being fired for sexual abuse, how many of these men were then hired by other schools, and how easy it is for offenders to become private coaches due to a lack of regulation.
Here a some facts from the article:
- “Over the past decade, 159 coaches in Washington have been fired or reprimanded for sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to rape. Nearly all were male coaches victimizing girls. At least 98 of these coaches continued to coach or teach”
- “The number of offending coaches is much greater. When faced with complaints against coaches, school officials often failed to investigate them and sometimes ignored a law requiring them to report suspected abuse to police. Many times, they disregarded a state law requiring them to report misconduct to the state education office.”
- “Even after getting caught, many men were allowed to continue coaching because school administrators promised to keep their disciplinary records secret if the coaches simply left. Some districts paid tens of thousands of dollars to get coaches to leave. Other districts hired coaches they knew had records of sexual misconduct.”
- “In the growing field of private club teams, coaches can get a job or start a team with almost no regulation or oversight. Men who coach teams sanctioned by the Amateur Athletic Union have been convicted of such crimes as assault, indecent liberties with a child and drug possession.”
The article describes how the passage of Title IX in 1972 created a huge need for coaches in order to comply with the law and most of those hired to coach girls were men.
According to the article, “As a profession, coaching has one of the highest rates of sexual-misconduct complaints, according to Bill Lennon, a Bellevue licensed sex-offender therapist and expert on sexual abuse by teachers.”
It makes sense for a sexual predator to use coaching as his or her gateway to children. Coaches work with athletes for several hours at a time, have plenty of one-on-one interaction, travel together and go mainly unsupervised.
"The Times analysis shows that Washington teachers who coach are three times more likely to be investigated by the state for sexual misconduct than noncoaching teachers. (Coaches who teach at private schools are not required to have a teaching certificate. Without public records, reporters could not include them in the analysis.)"
The article also cites a North Carolina study that found in schools, “the No. 1 reason for dismissal of a coach — accounting for 1 in every 5 firings — was not a team’s poor performance on the field, but the coach’s sexual relationship with a student.”
Okay, so after reading such nightmare statistics, what can people do to protect their children?
Criminals exist in all walks of life and many will slip through the cracks. It’s the sad, scary truth. Not every child can be protected. But hopefully the public outcry surrounding recent coaching sex scandals will
scare the crap out of encourage school administrations to do their homework diligently before hiring any staff member.
Hopefully with every survivor who recounts his or her story, millions of kids and parents alike will listen and learn how to recognize the telltale signs of a predator, preventing them from becoming future victims.
Hopefully this public forum will release survivors from their shame and parents will feel more comfortable having difficult conversations with their children.
From Pee-Wee to the Pros, there are probably a million athletic coaches in this country. The vast, overwhelming majority of those men and women enjoy instilling values and teaching the games they love to kids. It is sad that a few bad apples have managed to spoil the rest of the bunch of such an honorable profession.
To read the disturbing yet fascinating and important Seattle Times article in its entirety, click here: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/news/local/coaches/news/dayone.html
Jackie Pepper is a sports journalist with nearly a decade of experience. As an anchor and reporter for Comcast SportsNet in Boston she covered the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins for the network's flagship show SportsNet Central and sister station New England Cable News.
In addition to her work with Comcast Boston, Pepper also anchored and reported for CBS affiliate KIDK, covering the Utah Jazz and various sports teams throughout the United States.
Pepper began her sports journalism career as a college radio reporter and talk show host at the University of Arizona. She went on to work for ABC Sports, ESPN and NFL Network, Yahoo! Sports and TMZ.
PepperOnSports.com features original articles, interviews, commentary and breaking news from around the sports world. Pepper also frequently contributes to live television and radio broadcasts as a guest sports and cultural analyst.
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