Two days ago the vast state of Pennsylvania woke up to news of a fresh scandal involving allegations that a coach at Penn State University sexually assaulted and abused at least eight student-athletes in his care. You can read more about the case here. Below, a few snippets form the case:
Sandusky, 67, faces 40 abuse charges, including 21 felonies. Sandusky, released on $100,000 bail, is charged with abusing eight boys between 1994 and 2009, with some incidents said to have taken place in a Penn State athletics building. He retired from Paterno’s staff in 1999.
Athletics director Tim Curley is going on administrative leave at his request, according to a statement from the school board of trustees late Sunday. Senior vice president for business and finance Gary Schultz will step down and go back into retirement. The two face charges they perjured themselves before a grand jury and failed to notify law enforcement authorities of child sexual abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky.
A student athlete is defined as “a participant in an organized competitive sport sponsored by the educational institution in which he or she is enrolled. The term student-athlete is used to describe the direct balance of a full-time student and a full-time athlete.” The NCAA has clear guidelines (sometimes observed in the breach), regarding the management of the student (who is also an athlete), and the degree to which a coach can and cannot be involved in the conduct of the student’s life outside the time allocated to coaching that student in a sport and the playing of that sport.
I had reason to look into those guidelines with regard to the management of high school athletic programs here in the Lower Merion School District and I was shocked to discover that many of the laws governing that relationship between coach and student at the NCAA level were being violated by one of the coaches at the high school. Agreed, the NCAA guidelines do not cover high school athletes, however, it stands to reason that whatever limitations are places upon college coaches who are dealing for the most part with adults, ought to be far less severe than guidelines in place at high schools for coaches dealing with minors, particularly those coaches who are working with children of the opposite sex, even more so if the child’s health is at risk.
How is it possible, for instance, that there are clear guidelines for teachers who see students perhaps once a day for an hour – and never send them emails using a personal email address not associated with the district whether school is in session or not, or invite them to dinner in their homes or make mixed CDs for them, or abuse their parents, or demand that they do not participate in other school sanctioned activities, or bully them one at a time into agreeing to continue participating in a class of the teacher’s choice – but none for coaches who spend several hours with students within and outside the school environment? In all fairness, this particular school district (Lower Merion), is taking this discrepency very seriously. After all, we live in an area where you can’t sneeze without a gesundheit from a trigger-happy lawyer.
11/10/11 – Addendum:The documents released by the grand jury in the case against Sandusky describes the testimony of Steven Turchetta, the assistant principal and the head football coach at the high school that Victim 1 attended:
Turchetta characterized Sandusky as very needy within the mentoring relationship he established with Second Mile students. Sandusky would often want a greater time commitment than the teenagers were willing to give and Sandusky would have “shouting matches” with various youth in which Turchetta would sometimes be the mediator. Turchetta would also end up being Sandusky’s point of contact for a youth he had been unable to reach by phone the previous evening. Turchetta testified that Sandusky would be “clingy” and even “needy” when a young man broke off the relationship he had established with him and called the behavior “suspicious.”
As the administration in general and principals and athletic directors in particular within the schools that belong to this district deal with these matters, they would be wise to reflect on the events unfolding in our own backyard at PSU. In the end, the adults in charge are to blame. In the end, the particular adult who broke the rules of engagement isn’t the only one to take the fall, and with good reason. The people who supervise the coaches and the people who supervise the people supervising the coaches are all culpable. Schultz and Curley are history and
there are calls that the board of trustees fire Graham Spanier, the president. head coach, Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier have both been fired. Underlining all of this is a gigantic financial price tag that the university will have to fold into a budget that is supposed to deliver services to students. That’s usually the way things shake down. It would be a pity if this school district (which is beleaguered by people who rush to lawsuits before trying to get school staff and district administration to do the right thing), refuses to take the complaints of multiple parents seriously and ends up precipitating exactly the kind of negative publicity, financial burden and demoralizing school environment that are part and parcel of lawsuits.