Do You Know the Coach?
Joe Paterno coached the Penn State Nittany Lions for 46 years. An amazing tenure for any coach. JoePa holds the record for the most victories by an NCAA coach, is the only one with over 400 victories, and coached 5 undefeated teams. That comes straight from Wikipedia, which now includes the line, “…was fired mid-season by Penn State trustees …after the arrest of a one-time coach…”. You probably know how that sentence ends.
JoePa was a great coach, winning games and awards and praise for his program. His players graduated, he raised money for the school and its educational programs, and changed much about college football.
All of this is now a footnote and he’ll forever be remembered for what he seemingly allowed to happen on his watch. If the allegations about Jerry Sandusky are true, and JoePa conspired with Penn State to hide it, then shame on Paterno, and shame on his colleagues. We’ll forever remember Bobby Knight for throwing chairs, not for the games that he won. It should be the same for Paterno.
Sandusky founded The Second Mile, a nonprofit that offers programs for at-risk youth. They have educational services, counseling, foster family support, and yes, sports programs. They reach out to the children and their parents, and have received the support of (among others) Hershey, State Farm, and Pepsi. Members of their Honorary Board include Dick Vermeil, Matt Millen, Franco Harris, Arnold Palmer, and Mark Wahlberg. The Second Mile sounds like a great program. Good for them.
The story that is emerging is one that makes any parent’s skin crawl. We have our kids at the YMCA, in little league, at dance, swim club, and everywhere else. From camps to teams to clinics to youth leagues: away we go. We expose our kids to coaches and instructors and mentors and who knows who else. All of them adults, and we’re supposed to trust them.
That being said, it is up to us to do our due diligence and examine the people entrusted with our little guys and gals. The programs that we send our children to are like The Second Mile: reputable and stable and run by committed, caring people. It is up to us to spend some time with these folks and figure out who they are. We can’t just “helicopter” them in and expect all to be well. We’re not suggesting that parents all become coaches and we understand how valuable everyone’s time is. But sometimes you have to put down the phone, step away from the desk, and watch. Get to know the people running the programs and the people actually interacting with the kids. Know the warning signs and it’s alright to be suspicious. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.
And for goodness sake; have the kind of relationship with the kids that allow them to be open and honest with you!