Donn Esmonde: Abuse is not team â€˜traditionâ€™
It is your kid in the back of the bus. Think of it that way. Imagine that your son is riding on the Wilson High School baseball team bus. View the situation through that lens. That, to me, is when this picture comes into focus.
Three varsity baseball players are charged with felony sexual abuse of two junior varsity players last month on the bus. Police say the older players forced an object into a private body opening of a JV player. Two coaches on the bus, who also teach in Wilson schools, were charged with endangering the welfare of a child due to lax supervision.
Ratchet up the level of outrage. Law enforcement sources last week said there was a similar incident of sexual harassment â€” unreported by the coach to the principal, for unfathomable reasons â€” last year on the Wilson baseball team bus. After that, a coach rode in the back with the players. This year, the coaches â€” who as teachers are required by law to report suspicions of sexual abuse â€” again rode in front.
If I had a son, I would not want him riding in that bus.
The usual rite of passage of, say, JV kids carrying the varsityâ€™s bat bags devolved, investigators say, to a JV player being sexually violated. It apparently happened in Wilson. But do not be smug. It could happen anywhere.
It could happen at any school where hazing is a habit, where coaches condone humiliation, where abuse is a twisted tradition. It can happen any place where adults dismiss abuse with a wink and a nod.
Any delusions that what reportedly happened is â€œnormalâ€ evaporated with the arrest of two coaches and three players.
Then again, you never know. Most folks at a recent town meeting reportedly seemed most concerned about the stain on the townâ€™s image and the coachesâ€™ reputations. The fate of the alleged victims was an afterthought. I give those kids a lot of credit for coming forward, given the fallout that they knew would follow.
â€œSadly, there is a tendency in a community to ostracize the victims,â€ said Brian Crow, an associate professor at Pennsylvaniaâ€™s Slippery Rock University. â€œThey get blamed if the season gets canceled. People say it was an isolated incident. Folks talk about what great guys the coaches are. All of which further victimizes the victims.â€
Crow has studied sports hazing for the past decade. He said that sexual abuse on sports teams is growing.
It is not right. It is not healthy. It is not excusable.
Disagree? Then imagine it is your kid in the back of that bus.
Young people, sadly, sometimes do stupid things to be part of a fraternity, a club or a team. Much of the time, experts say, the victims think of it not as abuse but as â€œtradition.â€
It is not â€œtraditionâ€ when the culture crosses the line. At worst, said Crow, victims become perpetrators â€” carrying on the team â€œtraditionâ€ when they get older by victimizing younger players.
I do not want my kid riding on that bus. I want a team culture that is built on respect, on sportsmanship, on caring. I want a culture built on heathy values.
Sexual abuse is not a â€œtradition.â€ Humiliation is not a team value. Bullying is not bonding.
This is what happens when coaches are blind or look the other way. This is what happens when parents shrug off abuse as â€œboys will be boys.â€ This is what happens when a community blames the victims.
It is Wilson today. It could be somewhere else tomorrow.