My take: Parents need high standards for girls basketball coaches
The other night I went to watch one of my players play for her high-school basketball team. Afterward, I was invited to join her family in their postgame ritual of having ice cream. As we were walking to our cars, the girl's mother suggested that her daughter ride with me — to help me find the restaurant.
Alarms went off in my head. Usually, my daughter would be with me. Slightly embarrassed for even saying so, I told the family, "Given recent events, I think that's probably not a good idea."
I drove alone, feeling a little awkward. But these are awkward times. The Times' harrowing series, "Coaches Who Prey" is a stark reality in my world. It is not a surprise that adults violate girls by exploiting one of the most potent positions of power and trust in our society — the youth coach.
What constantly surprises, even though I see it time and time again, is how these disturbing acts are enabled by those you'd think were inexorably sworn to protect girls at their most vulnerable — institutions tied to education or athletics or, even more puzzling, their usually super-charged, super-vigilant parents.
Now in my seventh year of coaching girls select basketball, I have tip-toed through a highly charged, out-of-whack world mined with Title IX-laced expectations of college scholarships and professional careers. In this day of two-working-parent households, quality time with the children is diminished and, if that time is wrapped up in youth sports activities, the demand for return is enormous.
In many a parent's mind, each game is judged on the following criteria: did my daughter play, did she start, did she star, did she (as an extension of the team) win? Not whether she had fun or learned something. Or even, was she safe? Depending on one's definition of safety, the answer to that last question, more often than most people realize, is no.
Even in this You've-Come-A-Long-Way-Baby age, the coaching ranks in girls basketball are dominated by males. And, put some men around girls and women, and they become predatory.
I was drawn to the "other" side of coaching by my oldest daughter, Sassia, and my love for and longtime involvement in basketball, much of it via this newspaper. I have grown to appreciate the different ways in which girls are wired and the different challenges, and triumphs, it produces.
In a big way, I'll stay in this game to protect because I've seen the transformations, and relative vulnerabilities. From cuddly third-graders to high schoolers and then a more elite level of athletes, who don't have the same body-consciousness issues as most girls and may casually doff their jerseys in front of their male coach who, hopefully, scurries away in terror.
On the road, they often will take over the same coach's hotel room where hopefully his daughter or at least some mothers are present.
Because of my experiences, I expect other parents to have the same concerns about connecting their daughters with coaches where there is even the slightest bit of doubt about coaches. But it's often not the case.
When informed of transgressions committed by another coach, parents have told me, "I won't allow him to be my daughter's role model," as if they had such control. I've had countless others say, "but he's such a great coach," as if the price of great coaching could legitimately be risking the placement of one's daughter with a potential criminal.
The objective for many parents, after all, is a scholarship, winning, and having parented a star player. This self-indulgent perspective skews many things.
I've had parents who raged against me because I wanted better communication from their daughters and were critical because I didn't yell at the girls enough. I know parents who spend countless hours moving from city to city in an effort to find their daughters a "better" high-school program, yet will not devote 15 minutes to making phone calls about the background of their daughters' coaches.
Yet the list of what parents will not tolerate pales in comparison to the list of what they will — including giving money to organizations that offer no structure or protection in return, or supporting coaches who lie, cheat, facilitate recruitment of high-school players, steal, and worse.
Ours is a sport utterly lacking in oversight and standards; you'd think this vacuum would be filled by parents who are otherwise so obsessed with their daughters' athletic careers. Lost in all of this is a lot of innocence.
During my career as a basketball writer at this newspaper, I watched the boys game turn, in many cases, into a money-driven cesspool. Now I watch in horror as many of the same elements creep into a game and world perceived by most outsiders as pure.
My hope for stemming the tide often is dimmed. It often comes down to praying that other parents become as embarrassed about it as I have.
Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company