How Abuse and Lost Opportunites Impact the Athletes in High School Sports Programs

An article in today’s San Jose Mercury by Scott Herhold sheds some light on the type of treatment high school athletes endure every day.  A toxic high school sports structure and culture provides for coaches, administrators and officials to act with little transparency or accountability. Nowhere else in our society do we tolerate any individual being verbally, mentally, physically or sexually abusive to children as we do in our schools and sports programs.

While the vast majority of our coaches are good hard working individuals with the best of intentions, if the system provides for even one coach to harm a child, it is one too many. Yes, coaches must set rules, players must follow rules and hopefully coaches should lead by example. Unfortunately civility cannot be regulated , but we can enforce that coaches and administrators follow the law.

Joe Paterno said days before he died, that he just didn’t know what to do with “  that”  complaint. That he was  from an era that didn’t allow him to mentally  grasp that complaint such that he knew what to do with it.    Sadly, not much has changed.  How many athletes have been abused, lost opportunities or been negatively impacted because nobody spoke up or knew what to do?

In the letter written by the Gunderson High basketball players there are issues that clearly do not have merit. Players should not be late and expect that to be okay because the   coach may be late. Most coaches are volunteers who have day jobs and 90% of them do their best to fulfill the commitment to the teams they coach. Players have an obligation to follow the rules, to be prepared and to warm up or be productive while they wait on a coach.

Coaches must follow rules as well. If a coach hears a racial slam from another coach, as the adult, he owes it to both teams to address it. Referees owe it to the game, the players and the spectators to address it as well. That behavior doesn’t belong in the game. When it is tolerated it is allowed to flourish and likely continues well beyond the visibility of the game. The letter is now public, what will the administrators and officials at Gunderson and Los Gatos High do with that information? Has the coach from Los Gatos High had similar complaints filed that were brushed under the mat? Is that how he speaks to his players? Is that the example and tone he sets for his team?

Verbal abuse must be addressed as well as it is often a precursor to other bad  or illegal behavior.  The players bravely spoke up and described how  they had heard a teammate be treated. That is direct testimony , it  is a complaint.   The sports culture may say this behavior is a necessity of the sport, society should say otherwise. If adults want to grow up and play in the Super bowl or get that big shoe deal, they may choose to endure that type of culture, but it doesn’t belong in high school sports.

These young men  should be applauded for breaking the code of silence and bravely coming forward.  If parents treat their children that way, a mandated reporter is obligated to report it. So why is this coach not reported? If the complaint has merit, the administrators have an obligation to address it both internally and according to state law. The Supreme Court has ruled that students do not check their civil liberties at the door when they go to school and this applies to the sports they play while  in school as well.

Gunderson High School has a legal obligation to address this. If the coach is in fact abusive and the players have been falsely denied the opportunity to participate, he should be fired. The firing should be well documented and public such that  he is  not be allowed to appear on another team on another day.

This story illustrates what our athletes face every day and how the adults embedded in the sports structure and culture respond. What if these were female athletes who had been sexually abused- would we act more rapidly? What if the abuse that was reported wasn’t the worse of it? And what about the children who don’t tell ? The students should be commended for speaking up. The code of silence and protection of those in charge of our young athletes must be broken.

Ironically, adjacent to this article was an article about an Ex Prosecutor who was charged with misconduct and creating phony lab reports, but she was allowed to cut a deal and kept the details private. She left the DA’s office in 2010 and is pursuing a career in teaching! Where is that reform Jeff Rosen promised? It is time to do better for our high school athletes here .


About ccswatchdog
Grassroots organization providing information to ensure fairness, transparency and accountability of CIF's Central Coast Section.

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