Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The shame the sports industry felt in 2011


In 2010 ESPN and the ABC’s 20/20 reported on allegations of sexual abuse among youth coaches certified by USA Swimming. The sports industry reported the disturbing news but quickly moved onto other issues.

The sports industry was changed forever on Friday, November 4, 2011 when a Pennsylvania grand jury indicted former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on charges of sexual abuse. Others have since been alleged to have taken part in sexual abuse like the now fired Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine, Bobby Dodd the now former head of the powerful American Athletic Union and now retired Philadelphia Daily News sports writer Bill Conlin. Conlin was recognized by the Baseball Writers of America in July at the Baseball Hall of Fame. All of these events occurred over the last two months.

"Sexual abuse affects everyone everywhere," says former U.S. Olympic swimmer Margaret Hoelzer, who was abused when she was 5 and has studied the topic and now speaks about it in an ESPN Outside the Lines report. "You can live in the richest gated community in the world, and I guarantee there is at least one sex offender, if not more, in that neighborhood."

So many questions for the sports industry as 2011 comes to an end and so few answers. Is the sports industry beyond repair? No, but the sports world has been changed forever and a sacred bond that once existed between the sports world and the adults who are empowered to mentor young people has been altered.

What is clear is “we,” the sports industry, have either chosen to ignore the specter of sexual abuse.

“I think there is a disillusionment there, but I think it’s reality. We haven’t seen behind the curtain before,” said Jarrod Chin, director for training and curriculum at the Center for Sport in Society at Northeastern University in an Associated Press report. “We’ve used sport as a way to ignore problems. But now what we’re seeing is they exist there, too.

“That’s what makes it the worst year in sports. What people are coming to realize is the thing we thought was such a great escape has a lot of the same issues we’re trying to escape from.”

A study conducted by sociology professor Sandra Kirby of the University of Winnipeg in 1995 concluded that 22.8 percent of respondents had sexual intercourse with a coach or other person in position of authority within their sport. As difficult as it has been for the sports industry to try and comprehend the news that has dominated the news since Sandusky was arraigned on November 4, it’s almost impossible to imagine what the Canadian study produced 16 years ago.

"Although there are a few cases where strangers accost a child and abuse occurs," domestic violence expert Lisa Smith of Brooklyn Law School told Yahoo Sports, "it is much more common for adults known to the child and, most importantly, trusted by the child to be the perpetrators. Sports provide an opportunity for contact and the building of trust, so the environment for abuse exists."

Parents bring up their children always telling them not to talk to strangers. The same set of rules never applied when Jerry Sandusky offered young, impressionable and often “lost boys” a chance to get close to Penn State’s football program.

It’s almost impossible to imagine how terrible the parents of Sandusky’s victims must feel today.

Penn State’s football program represented everything to everyone who lived in the region. The program was larger than life and Sandusky was part of the “magic”. The Nittany Lions won national championships in 1982 and 1986 and Sandusky was a key to their success.

After Sandusky ‘retired’ in 1998 his access to the Nittany Lions remained in place. Sandusky had access to the football team, the football teams’ locker room, to entire program. All too often parents believe so much in those they entrust to coach their children, a trust that is now forever shattered.

"Isn't that why you choose a certain coach?" Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Sports and Society at Northeastern University told Yahoo Sports. "The thinking is, this coach is better for the child development of your kid. Whether it's at camp at age 10 or college at age 18, these coaches become huge in the development of youth. Everyone's thinking this is the best place for my kid.”

The Associated Press should be applauded for making the Sandusky story their sports story of the year. The Sandusky report “finally” ensured allegations Bernie Fine who, for 36-years, served as Syracuse men’s assistant basketball coach would be brought forward.

That led to the Bobby Dodd AAU news and the Philadelphia Inquirer reporting that Bill Conlin was facing similar allegations.

Sports reporters have little, if any, understanding of what makes a child predator and similarly little, if any, knowledge of the aftermath the victims experience. Conversely, experts in sexual predation had little, if any, understanding of how the sports world operates.

"Your average dad isn't going to watch a Lifetime movie about some girl who got molested," says Hoelzer. "But you can believe he's watching ESPN and knows exactly what's happening at Penn State or Syracuse. And if there's a silver lining in this, that's it. This can introduce this topic to a new audience and serve as the wake-up call we so desperately need."

"I don't want to say I was holding my breath, waiting for this to happen, but it was always a matter of where, not when," says Kristen Dieffenbach, who teaches athletic coaching education at West Virginia University and has studied coaching ethics and sexual abuse in sports.

As hard as it is to believe, there is some good that can come out of this tragedy. Parents will now have to make sure whenever their children are part of sports team that they understand that they need to be attentive if they are alone with their coach.

The Penn State football program will one day move forward from the aftermath of Jerry Sandusky, and children will once again attend Penn State football games with caring adults who are there to mentor.

"We can't change what happened," Dieffenbach told ESPN. "But we have to get angry about it. We have the power and responsibility to prevent the culture from letting this happen again."

"You can have new policies and procedures and posters, but is that real change?" asks former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy, who was sexually abused as a youth hockey player in Canada in an ESPN report. "Most organizations don't even know where to start with this discussion. It's: Let's hope this never happens here, and if it does, we will put out the fire as fast as we can and shove it back under the carpet."

The process has begun. Awareness is everywhere. The next step is change and, as Sheldon Kennedy suggests, most organizations aren’t even aware of what is taking place in their organization.

It’s a safe bet that since the college sports world was rocked by the news from Penn State and Syracuse, every college athletic department is conducting extensive background checks on everyone associated with their athletic departments.

No one wants to be the next Penn State, the next Syracuse and experience what the AAU is going through and the only way that can happen is through better monitoring. The sad news is how many young children could have been saved if those in charge had paid closer attention to what was taking place?

Football Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno and Penn State President Graham Spanier were both fired days after Sandusky’s first indictment largely because many believehttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifd they had played an active role in covering up allegations that Sandusky had raped a ten-year old boy in Penn State’s football locker room in 2002.

Sandusky was arrested for a second time on December 7 on additional counts of sexual abuse. One of Sandusky’s victims offered testimony that he had been raped by Sandusky in Sandusky’s home in 2004.

If Penn State had reported what Mike McQueary had told Penn State officials he had witnessed in 2002, victim number nine might never have been raped by Jerry Sandusky. Forget about whether or not Penn State officials may have broken the law by covering up the horrific 2002 allegations, a life was changed forever because of their inaction.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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