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Monday, January 3, 2022

Pedophile Coaches

     Pedophilia has always been a serious and hidden aspect of boys' athletics. The problem has been brought to the surface by high profile coaching scandals at Penn State, the Citadel, and Syracuse University. Are these rare cases, or is this a major social and criminal problem? Just how many sexual predators are coaching our children?

     As reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Michael Soto, a clinical psychologist at the University of Toronto, estimated that between one and three percent of men are sexually attracted to children, mostly boys, 12 and under. Dr. Soto believes pedophilia is not a learned behavior but the result of something different in the brains of men sexually attracted to children. Studies have shown that about a third of these men were abused sexually as children. According Dr. Soto, childhood abuse might trigger a physiological predisposition for pedophilia.

     Dr. Thomas Plante, a psychological professor at Santa Clara University who studied and treated pedophiles (including hundreds of priests), estimated that five percent of all men have a predilection to be sexually attracted to children. According to an interview the professor gave to The New York Times reporter Lynn Zinser, not all of these men act on their deviant attraction. But still, any way you figure it, the country is crawling with sexual predators who work in jobs that bring them into contact with children. And what better position could there be for such men than coaching sports?

     Pedophiles who sell insurance, drive trucks, or work in factories, unless they are involved in organizations like the Boy Scouts, YMCA or Big Brother, will draw suspicion when they engage in any of the behavior associated with pedophilia. This would include excessive interest in boys under 12, buying them gifts, taking them places overnight, and laying hands on them. Athletic coaches do these things as a matter of routine.

     Pedophile coaches get away with their crimes because of the nature of the offense and the psychological make up of their victims. Boys who play sports serve at the pleasure of their coaches who they desperately want to please. These victims are reluctant to report being abused because they not only fear their coaches, they don't think anyone will believe them. Moreover, they're worried that the other players will think they are homosexuals. These boys are powerless in a culture dominated by sports fans and ex-jocks where coaches are kings. Even victims' fathers are afraid to offend coaches for fear of hurting their sons' athletic futures.

     In Pennsylvania, the way state authorities handled the 1998 sexual molestation allegations against Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky illustrates why pedophile coaches are rarely brought to justice. Under Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services Law, Department of Public Welfare (DPW) social workers have the authority to "indicate" someone as a child molester. This determination is not made public, and is outside the criminal justice system. An employer of such a designee is informed of the status, this person is barred from contact with children, and a criminal background check is initiated.

     In the 1998 Sandusky case, the DPW worker was informed that the coach had been accused of sexually abusing an 11-year-old boy in a locker room shower. On June 1, the DPW official and a detective with the university police department questioned Sandusky in the Penn State weight room. The coach admitted showering with the boy and said he felt bad about that. Whether he admitted hugging the boy at that time is not clear. The DPW investigator later declined the opportunity to monitor an electronically eavesdropped conversation between coach Sandusky and the alleged victim's mother. In that confrontation, the coach admitted hugging the boy in the shower.

     The DPW social worker did not find "substantial evidence" of sexual abuse in this case. Had he done so, Coach Sandusky would have been barred from any contact with children through his charity, The Second Mile. His superiors at Penn State, including head coach Joe Paterno, would have been alerted to the potential problem. The DPW official's decision, as well as Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar's refusal to prosecute the case, allowed coach Jerry Sandusky continued access to children.

     Looking back at the 1998 Penn State child molestation allegation, many child protection workers believed there was substantial evidence of sexual abuse, and that Coach Sandusky should have been kept away from young boys. (The DPW handling of the 1998 case was covered in Moriah Balingit's article, "Ex-DPW Worker Discusses 1998 Sandusky Case," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 11, 2011.)

     Because of our national obsession with athletics, we are sacrificing our children to the gods of sports--the coaches. New laws and greater awareness, in the face of this obsession, will not protect young athletes. Pedophiles do not believe that what they do to kids is wrong. Therefore they can't be shamed or humiliated. They respond to their accusers with anger and defiance. And whether these men are coaches, elementary school teachers, or priests, they know how to use and abuse their power. As long as they have this authority, they will continue to molest children under their control.       

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