2012 Jan/Feb PS Magazine
Watching Mike & Mike in the Morning on ESPN 2, Mike Greenburg quoted a line from the movie, A Few Good Men, surmising that the excerpt represents the people that sat by for years and let dozens of children be sexually assaulted by former Penn State coach, Jerry Sandusky. If you recall, the movie is about a group of Marines who following orders, unintentionally kill another soldier and then is covered up by the superiors. At the end of the movie, Judge Randolph finds the accused guilty of conduct unbecoming a US Marine and orders Lance Corporal Dawson and Private Downey to be dishonorably discharged. A bewildered Downey asks Dawson what that means. Downey doesn’t seem to understand that they have done something wrong…they were just following orders. Dawson answers that as Marines, they were to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves and on this occasion, they failed.
I agree with Mike and the screen writer; we are here to protect those who can’t protect themselves. But what does it take to do the right thing? Even Joe Paterno said he wished he had done more. I think the most disturbing fact surrounding Sandusky was that he got away with his predatory behavior for over 13 years and it was not a secret! Reading the Grand Jury investigation report, there were many opportunities for witnesses to do the right thing. Even when investigated by authorities, they dropped the ball. How many children were abused because know one stepped up in 1998 when the first allegations came to light?
Significantly, this is not a new problem and not one you would generally associate with football but in society in general. As I wrote last year, USA Swimming reported that they banned 36 coaches over the previous 10 years for sexual misconduct. Literally as I write this, a lawsuit has been filed in Indiana targeting USA Swimming, Indiana Swimming and a school district. In addition to looking for financial compensation, the suit seeks the firing of top officials at USA and Indiana Swimming. It was reported in the Indianapolis Star, that officials had a couple of chances to stop the coach from molesting the child. Again, what does it take to do the right thing? Burying your head in the sand and making believe that nothing happened or that someone else will report the activity… is just unacceptable.
Three years ago, US Figure Skating passed a motion that all coaches and officials must pass a background screening. Many professionals criticized the plan; felt it was unfair and too expensive.
Two years ago, PS Magazine published an issue entirely on Ethics, its featured article Tough Times written by Olympian and PSA Governor, Paul Wylie. An unforgettable quote from the feature, “What can we do to daily live up to our best intentions? Obviously we must adhere to a minimum standard of ethics.”
A year and a half ago, at the request of Paul Wylie, the PSA met with Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL hockey player who had been subjected to years of sexual abuse by his junior coach. Sheldon was a co-founder of Respect in Sport, a Canadian company whose mission is to educate athletes, coaches, officials, and parents on appropriate contact. They met with US Figure Skating as well. Following this meeting, US Figure Skating and PSA decided to produce a sport specific e-course on abuse. Just completed, PSA partnered with several noted experts, Dr. Clark Power of the University of Notre Dame's "Play Like a Champion TM" program, Dr. Max Trenerry of Mayo Clinic, and Dr. Gloria Balague from the University of Illinois – Chicago Circle. The objective of this two-part course, CER ET 201/SS 206 “2 GRO-W Champions”, is to provide coaches' education on the definition, recognition, elimination, and prevention of abusive coaching, and the building of safe training environments.
At the Annual Conference and Trade Show in Dallas this year, PSA presented a panel discussion regarding abuse in sport which included Paul Wylie, Sheldon Kennedy, Pat St. Peter, USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, and Nancy Hogshead-Makar. A three time Olympic gold medalist in swimming, Professor Hogshead-Makar is Professor of Law at Florida Coastal School of Law, and an authority on Title IX, the NCAA rule on equal play.
Also this year, PSA reached out to ISI and implemented a combined grievance process. By signing this deal, the PSA was able to help ISI close a loophole that had allowed the opportunity for questionable coaches to keep teaching once they were excused from either PSA or US Figure Skating. Also this year, ISI has implemented their own requirement for coaches to pass a background check.
I am proud of the fact that PSA has long taken a stance to promote ethical coaching. I am also proud that together with US Figure Skating we were able to produce the CER course on abuse as well as support US Figure Skating’s commitment to producing a safe training and competitive environment. While no system is perfect, we understand that a motivated pedophile can get past our safeguards. This is why it is imperative that coaches be diligent in keeping an eye out for suspect or abusive relationships. We owe it to the children to do our utmost to protect them. I suggest that you take 2 GRO-W Champions sooner than later…It is never the wrong time to do the right thing.