If you have a young son or daughter, or a young niece or nephew, or another young person you care about regardless of relation, the past week led to some reflection.
Is there anybody who might be abusing them? Would they tell someone if it’s happening? What can be done to prevent the former and ensure the latter?
There’s been a lot of disturbing news lately regarding coaches and other authoritative figures accused of heinous acts with children. I had forgotten about the need to be vigilant in sports before the Penn State scandal. A ton of stories about abuse in the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts lulled me into viewing sports in a different light.
But sports are the perfect hunting ground for perverts, pedophiles and other assorted monsters. They gain positions of influence and use them against insecure, impressionable youngsters, who love the access and ignore the agony that follows.
Three revolting cases have caught my attention since Jerry Sandusky’s alleged offenses shook the nation. Each one illustrates the need for accountable adults, whose abhorrence of children being compromised outweighs the threat of bad publicity and damaged brands.
Yahoo! wrote about a longtime Boston Red Sox clubhouse manager, Donald Fitzgerald, who for two decades subjected at least a dozen boys to systemic sexual abuse. He used the trappings of Fenway Park, the Bosox and the team’s spring training home to lure his victims, some as young as 4. Like Sandusky, Fitzgerald was caught in the act but protected by his powerful employer, which enabled him to prey longer.
Players warned young boys — especially African-Americans — to stay away from him. Club officials tried to sequester him from social gatherings. In 2002, Fitzgerald accepted a plea deal on four counts of attempted sexual battery between 1975 and 1989. The Red Sox paid a group of victims $3.15 million in 2003. Another victim was paid $100,000 a few years earlier.
The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina, is no better than the Red Sox or Penn State.
It investigated allegations of child abuse brought in 2007 by a former camper against a camp counselor, but never reported them to police. The suspect, Louis Neal “Skip” ReVille, was arrested last month on separate charges of abusing five boys elsewhere in the state. Police said he admitted to the crimes and more charges are pending.
“This should have been reported [to police],” Citadel President John W. Rosa said in a news conference this week. “We’re profoundly sorry, sorry that we didn’t pursue it more. We acted on what we thought was our best information.”
No, they acted on what they thought was their best interest, which clearly wasn’t the case for the school or ReVille’s future victims.
Perhaps The Citadel was thinking about the $3.8 million settlement it paid a year earlier, to child victims of a different camp counselor in another sexual abuse case.
With all this talk of men abusing boys, we must remember that girls are at risk, too. Maybe even more so when they play individual sports that foster a special bond between player and coach. A sport like, say, gymnastics, which apparently has its own issues according to a recent two-part investigation in the Orange County Register.
The first part focuses on alleged sexual abuse by Don Peters, who last week received a lifetime ban from USA Gymnastics. Three women have accused Peters — coach of the ground-breaking, Mary Lou Retton-led 1984 U.S. Olympic team — of having sex with them as teens. Part two focuses on the ineffectiveness of lifetime bans and USA Gymnastics’ lax approach to investigations.
Jennifer Sey, the 1986 U.S. all-around champion and author of the book “Chalked Up,” told the newspaper: “It’s my belief that [sexual abuse] over-indexes in gymnastics compared to the general public, just like the Catholic Church. I’d like USA Gymnastics to overtly say they put the athlete first, but they don’t put the athlete first.”
Officials at USA Gymnastics, The Citadel, the Boston Red Sox and Penn State might have had their priorities straight if an alleged victim was their young son or daughter, young niece or nephew, or another young person they care about regardless of relation.
They’re reflecting on that now.
It’s too late to help past victims. But it’d be a shame if these stories don’t stop future enablers from assisting in the creation of subsequent victims.
Meanwhile, the rest of us can think about having some discussions with the youngsters in our lives.
• Deron Snyder can be reached at email@example.com.
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