A real frustration on the current women’s basketball social media/commentary landscape is the disappointing lack of meaningful content regarding the Larry Nassar scandal. I’m not referring to the storyline itself, we have more than enough coverage of the actual crimes and ongoing legal proceedings. My concern lies in the catastrophic failure to connect the dots and recognize the scary, but very real, comparable potential we face in scholastic and club basketball. The level of electronic silence is deafening and tantamount to turning a blind eye.
Specifically, the frustration lies with social media. It seems there’s always plenty of time to highlight the mundane, insecure and self-promotional ramblings of individuals who wouldn’t have a voice anywhere else. And naturally that omnipresent ego driven and predatory mentality continues to run rampant on a daily basis. Sadly however, there has been little talk, content or commentary addressing the possibility of a Nassar like individual roaming our courts, sidelines, locker rooms or training facilities. Anyone believing that our sport is immune to a similar kind of evil or equal depth of corruption must still lose sleep in anticipation of the arrivals of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
Wake up folks. Those who blindly trusted and believed in the Good Doctor from Michigan shoulder their own considerable share of responsibility for the extent and longevity of his heinous activities. If the basketball world continues to babble on and on about who got what offer, how one event is better than another or inundate the gullible as to how they should genuflect in the presence of their efforts…we’ll ultimately be sharing some blame of our own. It’s disappointing that we’ve come to accept the mindless sewage as the norm and in the process continue to miss a critical obligation while overlooking an important opportunity.
You want to grow the game? Protect the foundation (the youth) first. How about reminding parents and athletes to adopt a “constructive approach of paranoia”. Part of the very definition of the word paranoia itself is the “baseless or excessive suspicion of the motives of others”. Unfortunately, when it comes to abuse, most of our concerns can no longer be categorized as baseless. We can only hope and pray that we never have a team physician abusing the Hippocratic Oath like Nassar or even callous coaches turning a blind eye as those extraordinarily shallow gymnastic counterparts have done. Women’s basketball players are no less vulnerable than those individuals on the beam or bars.
Now that the evil and exploitation has extended its reach into the examination room, it joins hands with the teachers that have run off with their students, the coaches playing one on one in hotel rooms with their players, or even Father Friendly and the Alter Boy All-Stars. Whether it’s the classroom, gym, training room or even the church, we live in an expanding world of vulnerability. Unfortunately, the current reality of the relationships between adults in authority positions and today’s youth has torn down the former walls of trust that previously came organically with those roles. A title or position no longer automatically includes that cherished guarantee that a young girl (or boy) is safe from elements with roots in the dark side of human behavior.
And as much as we might want it to…it simply shouldn’t…not anymore.
There’s way too much public history and extensive evidence to negate the courtesy of confidence that used to provide a sense of security to both parents and kids alike. Many similar tragic situations making news headlines rather than the sitting atop the sports section can easily trace their facilitation to the blinded and misguided trust of seemingly responsible adults. “Not him” and “not here” have become the repetitious vocabulary of the naïve and the victimized.
No, it’s not necessary to throw the baby out with the bathwater, nor do you have to live in an overprotective bubble to shelter the younger generation from harm. However, we now may live in a world where individual workouts, medical treatment, tutoring or simply a ride home necessitate a workout partner, witness or chaperone.
And that’s not all bad…for either side of the equation.
Legitimate coaches should strive to make their athletes and parents comfortable with all situations while providing a transparency defusing any potential crossing of appropriate boundaries of conduct. There’s no sound reason for an adult of either sex to be alone with a minor athlete in today’s world. An assistant coach or another player should be present in any workout. A parent or trainer should be on hand in any examination room. Tutoring should occur in a public or a group setting. The price of abuse far, far exceeds the cost of independent and individual attention.
Does that mean that we unleash the already annoying, overzealous helicopter parents into the gyms and classrooms that are already pushing people to the brink of walking away from coaching and teaching? Of course not. What it does mean is that we eliminate the individual scenarios and take away the security blanket potential predators embrace and hide under.
Coaches can effectively work with athletes while mom or dad labor away on their laptop across the gym. Better yet, workout with two or four athletes at a time and expand the potential and depth of the session. Doctors and athletic trainers should always welcome parents or responsible coaches (with appropriate legal permission) into the training room and offer detailed explanations of treatment without exception. (Thank you very much Dr. Nassar) Anyone providing a “ride home” should drop off two athletes at their last stop and never be alone in the car with a single player. Protecting the individual (both athlete and adult) should be paramount versus any sense of what formerly was a logical or convenient “given”. Quoting Mr. Dylan, “The times, they are a changin”. Better get used to it. In the end, you’ll sleep better at night.
The bigger picture necessitates that we educate the young students and athletes about more than the abuse itself. Awareness has to be ingrained as to the specifics of what is and what is not an appropriate situation or interaction with an adult authority figure. Truly one of most disheartening aspects of the Nassar abuse is the number of victims and the length of time he continued to have access to unknowing, defenseless young women. Over time, just a few came forward and those that did suffered further indignation by way of both skeptical response and a criminal lack of action.
The list of those other disgraceful individuals who should be facing their own indictments should not be ignored or provided a pass simply because Satan himself is now behind bars. Cover-ups and complacency warrant an aggressive legal remedy. Their form of “evil” may manifest differently than that of Nassar’s…but don’t think for one moment it’s any less evil. If you doubt it, ask the later victims who’s abuse followed those unheeded and ignored pleas for investigation.
I greatly admire the courage of those women who have stood before the court and the “demon” (As the father of three victims referred to Nassar) sharing their strength, their pain and unwavering focus on the life in front of them. What it must have taken to step up to address the court, their abuser and society goes beyond any challenge they could have ever faced as athletes…Olympians included.
Yet the focus moving forward is not about them. In no way am I minimizing Nassar’s victims when I say that they are no longer the most important individuals in the conversation because we need their stories to give the next generation the understanding and confidence to stop abuse before it even happens. The NEXT athlete or student targeted by one of these corrupt and vile wastes of human DNA must always be at the forefront of the conversation. Where a player is ranked, who’s in the mix for McDonald’s recognition or what insecure individual wants credit for the accomplishments of a teenaged girl needs to take a backseat on occasion in the basketball realm.
While we don’t know what setting or even what sport that abuse will raise its head once again, that unfortunate individual who has yet to come forward needs to know it will be all right, that there will be support and more than anything, that she’s not at fault. I once was told that stories in this vain had “already been written” and that we needed to avoid redundancy and look for other topics. In reality, the narrative itself begins contributing to the crime when journalistic concerns trump the welfare of athletes and safety in sport. If we don’t talk about it…if we don’t teach from it…if we don’t learn from it…we’re certainly destined to experience it once again. It’s time to speak up.