It’s tough to turn on the television these days without hearing the name of Joe Paterno, former Penn State head football coach, who passed away at age 85 on Jan. 22 in the aftermath of a child sex abuse scandal.
What we do not see every other day on ESPN’s Sports Center or on the front page of the newspaper is the rest of the list: Jerry Sandusky, Penn State assistant football coach. Bernie Fine, head coach of the Syracuse basketball team. Don Peters, a former United States Olympic gymnastics coach. Michael J. Lyons, climbing coach at Earth Treks in Columbia, Md. Bobby Dodd, president and chief executive officer of the Amateur Athletic Union. Bill Conlin, sportswriter for the Philadelphia Daily News. Unfortunately, the list goes on, but for the reader’s sake, we will stop there.
All of these men have a lot in common. They were successful men who coached and mentored young athletes. Their lives centered around sports and all the glamor and glory that came with it. But their reputations shattered with allegations of sexually abusing and molesting young athletes. In the wake of allegations, Fine lost his job and Conlin was forced to resign. Peters, who built U.S. gymnastics into a powerhouse and coached several women to Olympic medals, was banned from coaching gymnastics by the sport’s governing body and kicked out of its Hall of Fame. Memphis police dropped their investigation of Dodd, but the AAU has cut its ties with him. On Feb. 3, Lyons was sentenced to 15 years in prison for sex abuse of a 14-year-old girl, but will likely serve only four.
In certain states, statutes of limitation make it difficult or impossible to bring charges years after an incident has occurred. Thus, coaches who molested minors decades ago may go on to live their lives as if nothing happened.
It’s not as if we haven’t encountered sports scandals before. We often hear of steroid and illegal drug use, sex promiscuity, recruiting bribes and academic cheating. All of these scandals, in some shape or form, are understandable in the sense that they are attempts to get a leg up on the competition.
However, this type of scandal completely redefines the word scandal. Sports icons who molest athletes ruin the lives and souls of these innocent victims. But they are not just any victims. They are children — powerless, unable to speak up or to hold their own.
According to ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” television program, Fine molested former basketball players Bobby Davis, now 39, and Mike Lang, now 45, in 1983. Now, nearly 30 years later, Davis and Lang were able to report what had happened. The most significant trauma in child abuse occurs to children like Davis and Lang who have to keep it a secret for all those years. It is the silence that allows coaches and pedophiles to feel like they can continue to take advantage of children and get away with it.
It is the responsibility of the whole community to speak out and spread awareness to prevent sexual abuse and the secrecy around sexual abuse from continuing. Teachers, counselors, school administrators, coaches, parents and even we students all must make a continuous effort to educate ourselves about rape, not only when a case blows up in the news, but all of the time.
In November 2011, the Paterno case was as big in the media as the World Series and the Super Bowl combined. And now it is as if it doesn’t even exist anymore, already shrugged off by a nation with a miniscule attention span. But child molesters do not stop abusing when the news of the case stops making headlines.
The statistics alone raise a chilling point. According to Angel Roar, a website which aims to educate kids about child abuse and the importance of disclosure, one out of every four women and one out of every six men will be sexually abused by the age of 18. That is a higher percentage than almost any disease statistic in this country. What’s more, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network website states that 15 out of every 16 rapists will never spend a day in jail.
As high school students gear up for college, we have yet to encounter more coaches, teachers, and mentors in our lives. When confronted with an ugly reality like sexual abuse, the most effective thing we can do is be as vocal and loud as possible. The most immediate lesson is to never turn your back on a victim the way the Penn State community turned its back on the abused children. No matter the money you’re saving or the embarrassment you’re evading momentarily, it will catch up to you eventually.