The news media recently reported about a youth league baseball coach being arrested – for at least a second time – for molesting children under his supervision. He was identified as a longtime coach with a South Florida Optimist Club. Parents had allowed the coach to have unsupervised sleepovers with a player from his team, “despite the multiple previous arrests involving molestation on his record,” the media reported.
The previous arrests led to no convictions, so background checks the league says it performed came up clean.
That is not good enough. Parents with children in youth sports or cheerleading programs must be vigilant in protecting their children from physical abuse, sexual abuse and the harm from predators.
Every year about this time, parents are signing up their children for youth sports programs. Whether football, soccer, cheerleading, even fall-league baseball, parents will be entrusting their children to the care and authority of coaches and organizations. Yet, how much do we know about those authority figures in whose care we’re placing our children? How do we know these coaches aren’t child molesters or have not been accused of sexual assault, sexual abuse or other crimes against children?
This week, news broke about a youth baseball coach who was accused for a second time of molestation of children in his care. While he was suspected and not charged, the incident brings to light the importance of protecting children – and the role due diligence can play in vetting and choosing the “authority figures” we present to our children.
How can unsuspecting parents protect their sons and daughters from sexual predators – even those who prey on the young under the guise of being a sports coach? Here’s three tips:
– Check records and background checks. It’s not enough to insist that the league conduct a thorough criminal background check of the coaches, assistants and others who will be working with the kids. The league must do this. Leagues, and even parents, also should conduct wider background checks. Even a simple Google search for a coach can help uncover a history worth knowing. On a positive note, it may reveal even past charitable acts or good deeds. Or, it may turn up nothing at all. But you don’t know if you don’t search.
– Be more cautious about leaving kids alone with coaches. Insist that the coach never be left alone with any players, cheerleaders or team members. Rules should state that coaches are not to ask or encourage children to travel with any child without other adults present and the express consent of the parents or guardians. At the very least, parents must instill in their children a sense of caution regarding requests by other adults and authority figures. If an adult asks the child to take a drive, travel, walk to a secluded area or someplace away from the team or park, the child should know to decline and call his or her parents immediately.
– Talk to your child. If you don’t ask, you can’t know. Parents should ask their kids more frequently if all is OK with their team experience, the other kids, the coaches, etc., as a way to encourage open dialogue. With the rise in child-on-child abuse, this could be a way to expose bullying or inappropriate behavior.
In a prepared statement, the Optimist Club said, “The accused individual passed comprehensive background checks, which were conducted by the Optimist Club’s background check vendors.” It also noted that it cannot know of past misdeeds if criminal charges against the accused resulted in acquittal, nolle prossed or dismissal.”
As a parent, that’s not good enough. It’s up to you to protect your children. Talk with them. Tell them to be cautious about strange situations or awkward requests made by the coaches. And most important, if they experience anything that makes them uneasy, the children must be encouraged to talk about it.