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Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal: What Happens When Media Spotlight Fades?


The alleged sexual abuse of boys by a longtime coach at Penn State* has focused media attention once again on the issue.  For the parents of the alleged victims, of course, their worst nightmares have come true. But what could have been done to prevent it? And is the culture of male sports itself at least partially to blame?

The sad fact, as noted in an article by Michael Hartill, a lecturer in the Department of Sport and Physical Activity at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, Lancashire, England who has studied sexual abuse of boys in sports extensively, is that "the largely unregulated world of children's sport has typically been slow to address the issue of sexual abuse of youth athletes." 

And, while ways to prevent abuse have been the subject of articles on the MomsTeam since our very founding more than ten years ago, there is reason to be concerned that, as the scandal at Penn State fades from the headlines and the media spotlight is shined elsewhere, the kind of practical steps we have long urged won't be taken to minimize the chances that it will reoccur.

As Professor Hartill argues in a new article for MomsTeam, one of the reasons boys in sports may be particularly vulnerable to sexual predators may lie in the very culture of male sports, indeed that the  "‘homosexual' nature of the encounter between man and boy, coupled with a homophobic environment [of sports]" may be "central to the silence that permits abuse to continue."  That culture shows few signs of changing any time soon.

Until the code of silence that makes it possible, in part, for sexual abuse of girls and boys in sports to occur is broken, and until sports' national governing bodies and local sports clubs take abuse more seriously than they have in the past (despite some recent steps, I don't believe enough is being done, even now), it is, I believe, up to sports parents themselves to be pro-active if they don't want to live the nightmare the parents in not-so-Happy Valley have been living with, in some cases, for a decade or more.  How? By doing the following:

  • Demanding that their child's program conduct annual background checks for all  adults involved in a youth sports program, not just paid staff but volunteers, with no grandfathering and no exemptions;
  • Insisting on institution of a two-adult rule for away games and tournaments (especially overnight trips);
  • Knowing the warning signs of sexual abuse;
  • Establishing appropriate sexual and physical boundaries at a pre-season meeting attended by parents and coaches; and by
  • Educating their children about the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching, and teaching them how to protect themselves against sexual predators.

Sexual abuse in sports is a problem that is not going to go away, anymore than sexual predators are always going to be a problem in the larger society.  But being pro-active can help. Parents owe their children and the teammates of their children no less.

* Update: On June 22, 2012, Sandusky was convicted of 45 of 48 counts of sexual abuse. 







Thought Provoking Post

As a former D 1 Athletic Administrator and Youth Coach, I'm am beyond apoplectic that now the accused in the Penn State case has waived the opportunity to face his accusers.
Pedophiles are by their very nature, cowards.

The deeper issue here is cultural and systemic. As parents, it is our duty to know exactly who is spending time with our children.
Too many time when I was coaching youth football or baseball, did parents either never show up, or just not even make an attempt to find out about the coaching staff...Basically using the sport as a free babysitting service...
What this situation should do is serve as a wake-up call to all youth sport parents to conduct due diligence on their child's coaching staff to see if there is any sign of untoward behavior with the kids.
While not a big government advocate, I believe that every measure should be taken to protect our children from harm.
I agree that everyone who coaches at every level, but especially people who have contact with young children, be verified through some process.
When I was serving in the Athletic Department at West Point, I had to go through a serious and complete background check by the DOD to secure and maintain my employment. So did all of our coaching staff..
In contrast, when I was coaching youth football in New Jersey, I had to go through the Rutgers "Safety" class, which in intent was good, but was treated by most of the attendees as a joke. Quite a few of the "coaches" in attendance slept through the presentations and still received their "Certification".
After the Penn State, Syracuse and now AAU situation, we need to assure , by any means necessary, the safety of our children.

Mike Pirolo

Founder and CEO



Thanks for sharing your comments

Thanks, Mike, for sharing. MomsTeam will continue to do what it can to educate parents and administrators of youth sports organizations about the importance of background checks (not foolproof, but a good first step) and the other steps, such as the two-adult rule, parents can take to reduce the risk that their child - or a teammate - will become the victim of a sexual predator.

Totally agree

Day by day, people are listening to what I and others have been saying for years. We will keep the drum roll. Thank you for your input.



Brooke de Lench

Publisher / Editor In Chief



Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports

Sex abuse in sports is a

Sex abuse in sports is a rising problem that often bring young athletes demoralized and in the end lose their sense of belonging in the society. The school and the Athletic Association should find a solution to this problem knowing that a lot of young athletes life is at stake.