When I was a teenager, starting in Junior League Babe Ruth, I had a coach who took a particular interest in my brother and me. We were hard playing kids, eager to learn the finer details of the game and gave it all on the field. Coach Rudnicki was always eager to teach those who were willing to listen, and my brother and I took it all in. But the lessons weren’t simply about baseball, they transferred into life and we took more from those summers than just running bases, getting a good jump on the ball in the outfield, and learning how to properly bunt. Coach Rudnicki made such an impression on my life, that despite him not being a direct family member, he was invited to my high school graduation as if he were.
Oh how things have changed in just the 16 years since.
With the stunning revelations in the world of coaching, from the now relatively small-scale issues at Ohio State to the ugliest of betrayals at Penn State and Syracuse, the perception is that the coach is no longer the father figure to many a young athlete, he’s turned into the dark shadow in the closet. He is no longer seen as the trusted guide on the path to manhood, but rather the creepy dude offering kids candy to lure them into the van.
It’s a shame really. There are thousands of coaches strewn across this country and others that are honest and caring, who take upon them the duty of showing our children the beauty of sport and the life lessons that can be taken from it. They freely give their time to make a difference, to keep kids off the streets or to give them a glimmer of hope in a world that has very little of it to offer.
Now, thanks to the actions of a few miscreants, every volunteer act and every sacrifice they make will be monitored under a microscope of doubt and suspicion by parents who must now be overly vigilant about the well-being of their children. No longer will the coach be a revered and trusted individual, counted on for the proper upbringing of a child. They will be vilified much like the Catholic priests were, held under suspicion by their role rather than the individual that they truly are. The acts will force families to withdraw even further into the security of their own homes, protected from the perceived evils of the world.
And that’s really what actions like these boil down to; fear and seclusion.
We want to know why our children are now drones, placated by television, computers, and video games. Look no further than the fears we’ve harbored and get justified for us nightly on the news. 20, 30, or 40 years ago our children roamed freely and played outdoors, engaging each other without the need for text messages or emails. Parents trusted that their children were safe from harm because they taught them who they could trust and how to make decisions about their own safety.
And that’s the real horror of these actions isn’t it? They were taught who to trust, only to have that trust betrayed by a sickness which has no equal. They were taught who to go to for help, only to have that betrayed by men who felt they had something more important to protect than the safety of the kids they were entrusted with.
In the end, we are all losers here. The Jerry Sandusky’s and Bernie Fine’s have taken the sanctity of sports away from us at every level. Their actions will drive American families further into seclusion and paranoia. They’ve turned what was once a positive role model into demonized predator.
They’ve ensured that treasured memories of a good coach, making a difference are a thing of the past.