I spent quite a bit of time wondering why this one got to me so much. Jerry Sandusky was never much on my radar. I'd never been much of a Paterno fan, but he'd become more of a punch line to me than anything else in recent years. I haven't felt strongly about Penn St. one way or the other since various games of the 80's - the out of bounds game vs. Nebraska and the Huskers subsequent revenge in the kickoff classic, their national championship victory against the Dawgs and their defeat of Miami team that may have been the obnoxious college squad ever assembled.
I can't claim to know any of the families or even anyone remotely involved with the crimes or the case or the court proceedings. Crimes like these are abhorrent, but I don't spend my spare time watching CNN, MSNBC or whoever following these type of cases. Yes, this became one of the biggest stories of the year, but why was it bothering me so much? I have kids, but I don't stay awake nights, because I think some other pie-faced loon like Jerry is waiting around every corner to grab them. What compelled me to read every article and the grand jury testimony?
Then it hit me.
I, like many other good men & women everywhere, am a coach. And this miserable, evil, lowlife son of a bitch has stained us all.
Some quick background about myself, so you know where I'm coming from and then I'll move on. This isn't about me.
In the winters, I coach youth hockey. A lot of it. Last winter, I assisted with a Bantam boys team (ages 13-14) and head coached U12 and U16 girls teams. The girls teams travel because we have no other girls teams in Omaha. The time I spend on and off the ice with these kids is about the most fun I've had in my life. I could write for pages, and just may someday, about how rewarding it is, how much I love these kids, and the indescribable feeling I get when I see them do things they never thought they'd do. I won't right now, but you get the idea.
Now, go ahead and admit it. A few of you probably got to that line about how I love the kids, and thought to yourselves, "Um, easy there, guy, that may not be the kind of thing you want to say out loud these days."
Thanks a lot, "Coach" Sandusky.
One of the toughest thing for a coach to earn is a parent's trust. The kids are easier. They love to play the games, and most of them want to trust their coach, please their coach and look up to him or her. It works both ways. Every coach wants to like all the kids on his team and wants to earn their trust as well. It's simple - coaches and players will give each other their best on a team that has this love and trust.
The parents' trust, though, is a little to tougher to earn and that's the way it should be. One of the concepts, I learned and try to sell to parents is that they should release their children to the game. Let it be their team, their experience and their journey with the parents there to model poise and confidence for them and support them when they need it. That's a tough sell for some parents. Anyone who's seen a parent screaming at a kid, a ref, or a coach in a youth game knows it's a concept that's far from universal.
My warning to that concept, though, is that the parents should make absolutely sure as best they can that the coaches and environment to which they are releasing their child is a safe one. Something tells me that parents these days have Sandusky in the back of their minds when assessing a sports team or organization. They probably look a little harder for danger signs and are quicker to distrust rather than trust good coaches and volunteers. I can't blame them.
Thanks a lot, "Coach".
I coached with and for some fantastic people in Omaha hockey. There's a lot of different styles, philosophies and personalities working with those kids on the ice, but I'm always warmed and amazed talking to other coaches, how many of them get it. The kids are what matters. Whatever parents, administrators, organizations, and, yes, even coaches want is second to what is best for the kids. The coaches are on the front line of making sure that what's best for the kids is being done.
Now people out there see us working with kids and maybe a glimmer of doubt about us enters their mind as they watch the Sandusky proceedings.
Thanks a lot, "Coach".
Most youth sports are run by organizations. They are vetted with the responsibility of making sure coaches backgrounds are checked and that they are fit to work with kids. They are also expected to be responsible for taking whatever action is necessary to deal with any inappropriate behavior on the part of coaches or officers in the organization. Thanks to certain Penn St. officials, when incidents arise, many will wonder: will the organization do what's right? Or will they cover up and protect their own?
Thanks Joe Paterno. Thanks Tim Curley. Thanks Gary Schultz. Thanks Graham Spanier.
Jerry, the trust you've damaged everywhere will not soon be restored. I saw Friday night that you're looking at a minimum of 60 years and a maximum of 442. My initial thought is that I wish you were much younger. I want the prison to look after you and keep you healthy for as many years of misery that you can last. I want you to wake up for as many days as possible and realize that the only way you leave prison is a transfer to another one for your own safety after an unfortunate incident lands you face down in an infirmary bed. No shivs in the shower or the lunch line for you. Death would be too quick. OK, maybe some shower fun should be in order. As I understand it, child molesters are the bottom of the prison food chain.
Hopefully, a few of the inmates in gen pop share similar beliefs and will take it upon themselves to make to be your "tickle monster" or "teach you how to shower". I mean, according to you, that's just friendly behavior, right?
I'm sorry if that sounds harsh, but I'm not a religious guy. If there is an afterlife though, I'm willing to bet not everyone heading upstairs is perfect. Wishing a doomed existence for Sandusky likely will not be a deal breaker for admittance. I won't be turned away. To quote Lt. Aldo Raine: "Nah, I don't think so. More like chewed out. I've been chewed out before."
As coaches and adults who work with kids, we'll put up with the additional scrutiny, the occasional raised eyebrow and additional questions. We might think twice about throwing that arm around a player or giving them a hug when they need one for fear of it being misconstrued. But we'll adapt and do everything to repair the trust you've tainted for one simple reason.
We love to coach. And we'll do our best to restore the faith that most people who work with kids are doing it the right way for the right reasons. And maybe in the end, we're all a little more educated about spotting potential inappropriate behavior. Hopefully, the coming punishments to Curley and Schultz along with well-deserved public scorn has also sent the message that covering up this sort of thing up is unacceptable and we reduce the chances of it happening again.
So thanks for that, "Coach". Enjoy your new accomodations.