When I was 12, I played on a youth football team. The coach invited the players to his house occasionally to eat hot dogs and swim in his pool.
I always had a great time, and my parents were happy for me to go to his house.
Today, I have a son who’s almost 12. Would I let him go to a coach’s house to eat hot dogs and swim in his pool?
Stories of alleged sexual predators, including the latest involving coaches at Penn State and Syracuse, have destroyed the trust parents have in adults who work with kids.
Now, we’re instantly suspicious of any youth coach or organization leader. Is this “guilty until proven innocent” attitude fair to the adult who is volunteering his time?
But is a parent’s paranoia about child sex abuse justified?
Being a parent is tough enough. Now we can’t entrust our sons and daughters to any adult without some misgivings.
Child sex abuse is the most insidious of all crimes. It can take place undetected for years. Children can suffer irreparable harm, and the perpetrators fit no common profile.
Should I worry if my son is coached by a single man in his 20s? Yes.
Should I worry if he’s coached by a married man in his 60s? Yes.
Sexual predators, all too often, look like everyone else. In fact, they’re often held in high regard because of their apparent ability to connect with kids.
Sandusky case is shocking
That was certainly the case with Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State coach who has been charged with 40 counts of child sex abuse. People lauded him for founding Second Mile, a charity to help at-risk children, back in 1977.
I became sickened, like other parents, when I heard Sandusky deny the sexual abuse allegations during an interview with NBC’s Bob Costas. All he did, he said, was “horse around” with kids in the shower.
“I have hugged them, and I have touched their legs without intent of sexual contact,” Sandusky told Costas.
Touched their legs! In the shower!
Frankly, I haven’t read much about the sexual abuse allegations against former assistant Syracuse basketball coach Bernie Fine. The Sandusky case, which broke first, was so alarming that I couldn’t focus on another high-profile coach who was accused of similar crimes.
I have sexual abuse fatigue. Isn’t that a sad commentary on the times?
I suppose wily sexual predators have always gravitated toward youth sports and other organizations involving kids. No doubt countless children have been abused without the dark crimes coming to light.
I wonder, is today’s knowledge of the prevalence of child sex abuse a good thing?
Certainly, I’m concerned about the safety of my son. But I’m also heartbroken to be suspect of any adult authority figure who enters my child’s life.
All kids, including mine, need adult mentors other than their parents. These days, parents have far fewer adults they can trust to fill that role.