After College Football Coach Joe Paterno’s Dismissal at Penn State: What Kids Need to Know About Sex Offenders - Healthland
As Penn State reels from a sex-abuse scandal that led Wednesday to the ousters of Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in major college football, and university president Graham Spanier, parents are left wondering whom to trust.
We’re pondering what to say to our children about the X-rated details and how to say it. We’re uneasy because every day, we cart our kids to soccer practice, to Little League, to gymnastics, leaving them in the hands of adults we often don’t know very well but assume have our children’s best interests at heart. In theory, they do.
In a report on Paterno’s dismissal on Wednesday, TIME’s Sean Gregory plucked a salient quote from Paterno By The Book, the coach’s 1989 autobiography. “Coaches have the same obligations as all teachers,” wrote Paterno, 84. “Except that we may have more moral and life-shaping influence over our players than anyone else outside of their families.”
As Gregory noted, “no one fumbled” that moral influence worse than Paterno, by failing to report to the authorities alleged sexual abuse by a former Penn State defensive coach, Jerry Sandusky. Kids are taught to respect authority figures like Sandusky, who more than 30 years ago launched The Second Mile, a charity for troubled children. Sandusky is accused of molesting at least eight boys he met through the program.
Ironic? Hardly. It’s the modus operandi for most sex offenders, who purport to assist, nurture and advise children. The mission of The Second Mile, according to the grand jury that indicted Sandusky on 40 counts of sexually inappropriate encounters with minors, is to “help children who need additional support and would benefit from positive human interaction.” First sexual predators gain the trust of children and their parents. Then they take advantage.
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If coaches teach hard work, perseverance and discipline, then it’s up to parents to teach equally complex lessons — about what kinds of touches are appropriate (yes to high-fives) and which are not (no to pats on the posterior — or worse). A simplified standard: no touches where your bathing suit covers. Yet many parents are reluctant to start a conversation for fear they’ll scare their children.