By John Hubbuch
The Penn State child molestation and coverup is one of the biggest sports stories in years. Even people who can't tell a Bull from a Bear are following this horrific story. There are a number of reasons. First, there is the role of big time sports and its impact on the higher education. Then there is the question of whether 84 year old Joe Paterno should have ever been in charge. When should a man step away from his job? There is the reality TV appeal: just what would I have done if I witnessed the sexual assault of a ten year old by a coach? Do moral resposibilities impose duties greater than those imposed by the law? These are difficult issues with no easy or obvious solutions.
And then there is the issue of pedophiles using coaching sports as a hunting ground for their youthful prey. My three sons were involved with youth sports in Oak Park for most of their formative years. Over that period of time I am aware that two coaches in youth baseball were convicted of child molestation. There was another instance involving AAU basketball that involved really odd , creepy behaviors. I would be surprised if there weren't lots of parents who have had questions about a coach or two.
It is a situation fraught with ambivalence and ambiguity. New parents don't know the norms. Some parents are by nature less suspicious than others. A false charge can result in defamation or ruin a good man or woman's reputation.( See the play/movie "Doubt"). Many of us simply lack the courage to say or do something.
One possible rule of thumb --- if it seems odd, it probably is. A coach should not have his players over for sleepopvers. He should not shower with his players. He should not spend long periods alone with players. He should not touch his players other than handshakes and high fives.
In fact the authorities responsible for selecting volunteers and reviewing their performance should have clear rules regarding the relationship between player and coach that specifically address these issues.For example, no coach shall have a player over to his house without his parent being present. Period. Similiarly, parents need to be given a clear protocol for reporting suspicions to league authorities.
I suspect that pedophiles will always be attracted to youth sports. As a result the parents and adults in charge of the coaches must be constantly vigiliant to discourage pedophiles and to insure as best they can the safety of the children. We can hope that the Penn State scandal will provide some antiseptic light on this dark issue.
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