I am not talking “new” Flint city coaches Lamont Torbert (NW) and Garner Pleasant (Northern). Nor am I speaking of Nate Brown (SWA girls), Jeff Whitely (NW girls), or Shalana Taylor (Northern girls). What has really got my mind moving is a number of old coaches that is making it incredibly more difficult to be a coach in this day and age. I am talking about Jerry Sandusky, Bernie Fine, Robert Dodd, and Graham James.
I know the last two names may not have rung many bells, but let me introduce you to them. James was arrested and convicted in 1997 of sexual abuse as it related to young boys the Canadian junior hockey leagues, including former NHL players, Theo Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy, hundreds of times over seven years. What was his penalty? 3.5 years in prison.
Robert “Bobby” Dodd is the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) president/CEO who was also a former coach now accused by at least 2 men of molesting then as adolescents. One of the men, Ralph West, was featured on an “Outside the Lines” show on ESPN and said that Dodd would sneak into his room at night on road trips to tournaments.
Bernie Fine is the now ex-assistant coach at Syracuse University for the men’s basketball team. His accusers (one even has a taped phone conversation allegedly with Fine’s wife) are former ball boys who for some strange reason were taken along on road trips with the team and allege Mr. Fine molested them as kids. Some of the alleged molestations took place at his home and some on those road trips in hotel rooms. Although the statute of limitations has passed on his crimes, the accusers are now suing the university and more specifically the head coach (Jim Boeheim) for defamation of character when they released the accusations publicly and he came out on the defense of his long time assistant and friend (He has since apologized for his statements).
Finally, Jerry Sandusky is the former Penn State University assistant football coach that is accused of not only molesting young boys on the college campus by using his influence as a coach, but also the influence gained by his foundation for underprivileged young men by luring them into situations that they were vulnerable to his predatory advances. He was observed by a fellow member of the coaching staff in the shower with a young boy. His story is the reason why some of these other victims even have the confidence to speak out and tell the world what is an embarrassing story to most. Right he faces a trial with various counts of illegal sexual acts that can land him in prison for the rest of his days.
I will spare you all with any more details and most have heard them anyway, but the point is that all of these examples have made an already difficult job even harder. Coaching youth is far more than drawing up plays and blowing a whistle in practice (at least for real coaches). What many people don’t know is that statistics show that the second most influential people in kids’ lives according to them are their coaches. During the sports’ seasons, you often spend more time with the team and coach than with many members of your own family. A true coach is a teacher first, before a technician of X’s and O’s. Many youth that may not have strong males in their lives may look to that male coach as a role model and confidant. While coaching at Flint Northern, I once had a player tell me that I was the only male role model he had…the only one. That is a huge statement and even bigger responsibility for any person to have, let alone a coach.
There used to be a time where I coached young ladies and was warned many times to be very careful about the way I talked, responded to, and acted towards them. One accusation can ruin a career and worse, a reputation. I made it a point to have a good relationship with all of their parents and was open, honest, and upfront right from the beginning and even still one can never be too careful. In fact, interaction between a male coach and a female player cost one of my coaching brethren in the area not too long ago. During that time that was all the warnings we would get regarding coaching relationships.
Now it is a new day and coaching young men brings about the same warnings. The unenviable task of gaining the trust of your players is made much more difficult by the walls they will build to help protect themselves. Parents put their complete faith in coaches as they take their children all over the road to different locations and that trust may now come into greater question. Don’t get me wrong, parents should be trying to get to know the coach before just letting a child go with them out of town anywhere. It is a responsibility that I have always taken very seriously, especially after I started coaching on the AAU circuit. I have had some summers where I never even seen a parent of some kids even once from March-July. Then I have had years like this one where my parents were so involved that it was just a beautiful thing. I have been fortunate to communicate with many of the parents throughout the year so the summer became just like old times.
For the life of me I cannot understand what a grown man finds attractive in a little boy or any little kid for that matter. It is a sick, twisted, and disgusting idea and that makes it very difficult to talk about for victims and even for me as I write this article. That said, it is fortunate that it has gotten so much attention so that those who have fallen prey to these criminals can and will come forward to expose them. It is the best way to prevent them from hurting any other children and ultimately adults as those kids fight to eliminate the emotional damage their ordeals had on them as they grow up.
What I do know is this; the job of coaching is not for the faint at heart. It is harder than it has ever been, but it is also more important than ever before. True coaches serve as teachers, role models, leaders, father/mother figures, and even confidants and they frankly have not gotten the recognition for handling such difficult tasks as they deserve. The problem today is that we have so many pseudo coaches in these important positions that are distorting what it really means. So many of them do it for themselves and care little about the kids they are coaching. The acts mentioned above are extreme examples of that selfishness. Anytime a coach will do something to purposely hurt a kid to promote themselves, they don’t deserve to be there in that spot. I’ve heard of coaches that gave minors alcohol on road trips and kept them out all times of the night. Our jobs as coaches are tough enough without the added pressure of having to defeat the ideals set in place by these frauds. I feel it is more important now than ever for the true coaches such as myself to stay in the game as much as possible. Those in control of hiring really need to consider history more and more as well. It is a shame to see any kid damaged by what is supposed to be a person that helps them grow. Expose the bad ones so the good ones can rise to the top.