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Misplaced loyalty

I usually do not comment on current events, but my thoughts turn to the nightmare scenarios we are hearing concerning the sexual abuse allegations against college coaches. When the victims are kids, any abuse seems worse to Karen Coffinme. Intentionally doing lasting physical or mental harm to a child is beyond despicable. We, who deal with youth sports, must look after the kids.
Coaches have a special responsibility to protect the children they work with. Parents trust their most precious possession, their child, to us and we are honor bound to help kids, not take advantage of them. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to be considered “second parents” to our players. That speaks of healthy love and respect. Whatever our relationship is with players, we must behave as most medical professionals are charged: “do no harm.”
When I speak to groups of interscholastic coaches, the administrators always want me to stress the moral and ethical aspects of a coach’s job. Not everyone understands that the personal relationships between coaches and players must remain on a professional level. If you ask a young man why he wants to coach football and his answer is, “to get a chance to date a cheerleader,” the warning siren is activated.

In both cases currently in the headlines, the alleged behavior of the coaches is much more than unprofessional. It’s criminal. The public is wondering if the head coaches knew what was going on, and if so, why they didn’t act. Like it or not, the head coach is responsible for everything their assistants do. Almost always, they are good friends who work closely together to put together a winning program under stressful conditions. They form a bond as a coaching team. They have to trust each other. It’s tough to believe bad things about friends and even tougher to confront them about a possible issue that could cause a rift between you.
Pundits are assuming that “nothing was done” in order to protect the athletic programs and the reputation of the universities. Maybe it was. Think about the situation from the culture around big time athletics. Coaches at all levels try to instill a family feeling to their program. Loyalty to one’s teammates is of prime importance to get everyone to work together. But, there is more.
Today’s coaches, especially high visibility ones, are constantly under public scrutiny. The players are too. The NCAA watches for rule breaking. The press is often in attack mode looking for things to criticize or analyze. Every play call is fodder for an argument. I think criticizing coaches is the new national pastime. The fans boo and put bags over their heads if they deem the performance of the team to be unacceptable. Players are raked over the coals if they make a bad mistake in a competition. Expectations are high and tolerance is low. Some folks take attacking athletes to an art form.
It’s hard being in the arena with the lions attacking and the crowd roaring for your head. To survive, coaches and players must stand together, to form a united team, protecting each other. The only people you can trust are others on the team — your family. Your emotional health is dependant on loyalty.
When the head of the family, the coach, hears about misconduct by a member of his team, the first reaction tends to be defensive. This feels like just another attack. The loyalty factor kicks in. It’s also important to realize that an accusation is not proof of guilt. It can be tough to confront the accused, but we are responsible for doing just that.
Coaches are teachers. One of the things we teach is that there are consequences for breaking rules. When does loyalty become misplaced? We must not overlook behavior that is a crime, or is repugnant or is damaging another person! We MUST take action. WE must take action. This means all of us. We have a moral responsibility that over-rides loyalty. We, as a society, must put morality over loyalty, especially to protect a child.

Karen Coffin, retired coach, is a member of the P.C.H.S. Athletic Hall of Fame. She’s a writer and a facilitator for Ohio Coaching Education classes. Contact her at coachcoffin @cros.net.

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