The news out of Penn State hit my home like a bombshell. Coach Jerry Sandusky, former football defensive coordinator, stands accused of molesting as many as eight young boys who looked to him to teach them about the game of football. As the wife of a guy who wrapped up his third season coaching youth sports just yesterday, it's a story that makes me as sad as it does angry.
The relationship between child and coach stands apart from that of parent and child or teacher and student. Our kids turn to their coaches for guidance, but also for something somehow more magical.
We teach them life lessons. School teachers help them with math and reading. Kids HAVE TO deal with us, with their teachers. But they generally get to opt into sports, which gives coaches an opportunity to take a kid excited about something and build on that exuberance. Coaches are sharing the love of a game, something they can carry with them for decades -- whether they play in the NFL or in the backyard before Thanksgiving dinner.
The allegations are that Sandusky forced sexual acts on children as young as 8, as old as 15. These were kids he worked with at Penn State in his role with The Second Mile, a foundation he established -- ostensibly to help at-risk kids. If it's true, he stole from these kids their right to say "NO," their right not to be sexually abused. That's what we'll be hearing about in the coming weeks as Sandusky faces charges.
But what about the other thing that he stole? The one thing we depend on youth coaches to give our kids? The simple enjoyment of playing a game? It is the very essence of childhood, learning to love moving your body, throwing a ball, catching a ball, and it's one that we enjoy long after it's become "uncool" to cart a doll around or push Tonka trucks around the living room floor making the "vroom" noises.
It's what makes my husband a good soccer coach; this child-like wonder that you can run up and down a field with a ball at your feet, and no one looks at you askance. It's almost magical, the freedom, the way his shoulders release as he dribbles around the 6-year-olds. He became a coach because our daughter asked him to, but he remains a coach because he wants to give kids the gifts of having one place where you can let the cares of the world pass you by.
Sure, he has to teach them about sharing (passing), kindness (no elbows, kids!) to help them grow up, but at the heart of it, he's really teaching them a way to hold onto their childhoods. He's giving them a place to be free.
For these kids from The Second Mile, now their free place has been tainted. If Sandusky abused these children as their coach, he not only stole their right to their own bodies, but he stole their childhoods. He violated the sacred bond of coach and athlete and dishonored coaches all around our nation who work with kids for the RIGHT reasons.
Did you have a coach who was in it for the RIGHT reasons?