I’ve been avoiding writing this because…well, I’m not sure. I don’t want to join the media circus that’s piled onto a situation that’s difficult to accept, as a father, a husband and as a man who’s coached girl’s youth sports for 15 years. It’s equally difficult to be able to filter out the good and the bad. Everyone wants to place blame, and many want retribution, punishment, revenge. I’m not here to do that.
But a close friend strongly suggested that I should say something about how Jerry Sandusky’s situation at Penn State can be used as a teaching moment for fathers and daughters (and mothers). Even after my friend’s suggestion, I hesitated, until I recently read a column by Sports Illustrated writer Phil Taylor. Taylor, like me, has coached youth sports for a number of years, but he wrote that the Sandusky situation has changed things for him. He frequently gave boys from his team a ride home from practice, and he explained how the boys talked to him about all the stuff a 14-year old boy would. Taylor says he no longer gives boys rides home. Not since Sandusky. His explanation is understandable. He says there’s nothing from stopping one of these boys, a year, five years or a decade from now claiming that something horrible happened in Taylor’s car on the way home from practice. I think I will have to follow that practice. Makes sense.
Taylor also said that he’s more vigilant of not touching his players, anymore, with anything but a high five. No smacks on the butt, no arm around the shoulders. Nothing that could be construed by anyone else to be anything more than it is. It’s sad to feel this way because there’s probably a tremendously larger percentage of youth sports coaches who are in it for the right reasons who no longer will make the extra effort to establish a relationship with his/her players for fear of being labeled a pedophile. There’s millions of kids who need coaches who care about more than winning and losing. Coaches who care about developing young people with character, determination, unselfishness and self-confidence. But I digress.
The lessons for our daughters is that we have to explain to them, in no uncertain terms, that no one is allowed to touch them in inappropriate ways. If someone were to attempt to do that, well, I don’t need to go over all of that. Yell, scream, call for help. But most importantly, don’t hide it. Don’t be afraid to tell someone you trust. Don’t be afraid to tell your parents or guardian. That only enables the perpetrator to continue the despicable actions. And it prevents the people who care about them from helping them.
I’ve never put my hand on my wife in an unkind way, and I’ve tried to explain to my girls that no man is allowed to do that to them. Ever. No matter how old I am, if a man were to put his hands on my daughter, you might as well call the police because they will have to lock me up. People might try to distinguish between spousal abuse or domestic abuse. I’m not professionally trained to tell you what leaves a bigger scar. Neither is acceptable.
I also question parents who blindly place their children in harm’s way. My youngest daughter has a friend who’s slept over our house numerous times over the past few years. Her parents are divorced and she lives with her father. To this day, I’ve never met the man. How does he know that I am a trustworthy person and that I will take care of his daughter and treat her with respect and dignity? My daughters will get agitated when my wife and I will not let them sleep over someone’s house whose parents we don’t know or at least have not met, and cannot get other friends to give a thumbs up or down.
I think the bottom line is this: Our children are the greatest gifts we ever will be given. It’s our job to love them, cherish them, nurture them and do everything in our power to help them become happy, well-adjusted, productive people. Unfortunately, Jerry Sandusky reminds me that we also have to protect them from harm and evil.
P.S. Don’t forget to tell your daughter that you lover her.