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Sunday, December 14, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.
Reader comments · Your reaction to the series

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From The Times opinion page: My take: Parents need high standards for girls basketball coaches

As someone who has worked with sexual harassment issues for more than 23 years I cannot praise your paper enough for its remarkable series on “Coaches Who Prey.” Your staff did an absolutely first-rate job of investigating and reporting on a long hidden and ignored problem.

Many of us in the field have known about these kinds of cases for a long time, but your series is the very first one in the country to actually document in stunning detail the pattern of male coaches sexually harassing and abusing the young students with whom they are entrusted, and the tragically typical way in which too many of the charges are ignored or minimized by school personnel and others, allowing coaches to continue their serial predatory activities.

The depth and quality of the investigative reporting in this article is a fine example of a newspaper’s role in public service: the series has shone the spotlight on a very dark area and it will indeed make a difference in helping all of us - teachers and administrators, parents and students, lawyers and advocates understand that this is a serious problem, which is, after all, the first step in solving the problem.

Bernice R. Sandler, senior scholar
Women’s Research and Education Institute
Washington, D.C.

The writer played a role in the development and passage of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal funds.

It’s disturbing to read of the sexual misconduct among male coaches of female athletes. Equally disturbing are the reasons behind the failure of the school system to deal with the problem, among them the fear of making themselves and their schools look bad, and upsetting their communities. What could possibly make them look worse than allowing such behavior?

At a point in their lives when adolescents are trying to find their moral compass, when peer pressure and a tendency for testing boundaries may complicate the choices teens must make, it’s important that the adults around them are acting responsibly when faced with the possibility that the school coach may be sexually harassing or otherwise abusing his players.

The Times has raised an important issue. It remains to be seen what changes are made by school administrators to address it, both in schools that have been named and those that have yet to be uncovered.

Donna Miscolta, Seattle

Of course, coaches, teachers and adults of any kind should never have inappropriate relationships with students. Obviously. However, you fail to point out that the students themselves may have played some role in these problems. Looking back to my school years, I remember many girls who were not so innocent. It's funny how parents are quick to blame the schools for their lack of interest and discipline, yet they display perhaps an even greater lack of interest in their child's welfare by turning a "blind eye" to the fact that their children (and I stress "children") are having sex with boys their own age anyway — or worse yet, encouraging it.

I suppose it's too difficult to properly train your children and teach them responsibility for their actions, and this only serves to increase problems like these. Of course, the young girls see no real difference in dating a boy their own age and dating a coach — and that is because they have been prematurely given adult privileges. What do you expect them to do with those privileges?

Next time, try writing the article from a truly neutral perspective, as newspapers were intended to do.

Molly Sims, Seattle

Thank you, Seattle Times! Your "Coaches Who Prey" series is long overdue. Parents need to take the lead and demand that school districts (and youth sports programs) clean up their act and set strong standards to protect young athletes. There is no system so difficult that a school district cannot remove and punish offenders rather than give the problem to others. Any union that protects people who prey on young people needs to look deeply at its reason to continue to exist. When a parent suspects a problem and chooses to remove their child, it would just make sense to share that with other parents on a team, rather then leave the predator to go after someone else's child. You have done a valuable service to your readers.
Gary Walsworth, President South Lake Girls Softball, Lake Oswego, Ore,

This article talks of different coaches who sexually take advantage of and assault young girls. When they are found out, they go to court and receive a fine. Then they are allowed to go and work somewhere else as a coach, giving them access to recommit their crime. These coaches receive little to no jail time for the horrible crimes they have committed. Whereas in the same paper I read that a man received 14 years for smuggling geoducks. Do not get me wrong, the man probably got what he deserved, but where has the idea of serving justice gone? Where are the communities, schools and parents? We must as a community, as well as an individual, make a stand and make sure our voice is heard on this pressing issue.
Crystal Coombs, Kenmore, Wash.

I totally agree with Crystal Coombs. Having lived in a coaching and teaching atmosphere for 30 years, I felt this series of articles on coaches who prey was long overdue. Over the years I have been angered at the silence by school administrations that allowed these coaches and teachers to move on to another school, or parents who turned their heads. But yesterday, when I read about the clam digger getting 14 years, I was furious. Where are our priorities in what we protect? Clams or children?
Laurene Eldred, Glenwood, Wash.

The suggestion that coaches need training to understand that it's morally and legally wrong to have a sexual relationship with a student athlete is ridiculous. The last thing I need as a busy coach is to spend my already overbooked time "learning" something that should be obvious even to the least-intelligent coach out there. This suggestion builds the kind of bureaucratic obligations that lead many quality coaches to leave the field. There are already enough demands on us for ridiculously low pay. It isn't that these perpetrators don't know that what they're doing is wrong — it's that they don't care. The solution shouldn't be to punish the rest of us. The way the WIAA runs things, they'll probably force coaches to pay for this "valuable" training with our own money the way that we have to pay for the rest of our training.
Mindy Leffler, Bellevue

I don't see how ANY adult with a conscience can say that the students should be to blame for the problems. Molly, do you not realize that the teacher/coach is the adult here? Even if a student is the one that tries to start something, it is the teacher/coach's job to not let anything happen, and to report it to their building principal. By saying that the student is partially at fault is just giving these coaches who prey the "keys" to your kids. How dare you blame the minor in these situations.
Chad Lee, Ellensburg

You have done an excellent job in shining the light on another group of predators that use every means they can to take advantage of our children. Most parents have no clue of the risks they are taking when they allow another adult to "coach" their children in any subject. They assume that the coach will do no harm and over and over again it does happen. What most parents do not realize is that they are dealing with professional predators who have honed their skills over the years and know how to work the parent and student. We must do all we can always to protect our children from these disgusting individuals. All means should be used against them. We must seek tougher laws, place them behind bars and do everything possible to keep them away from our children forever.
Mark Masterson, Yakima

These men should be held just as accountable as Mary Kay Letourneau was held several years ago. She had the same authority as the men have.
Christine Still, Tacoma

In response to Molly Sims of Seattle on it being "too difficult to train your own children to be responsible for their own actions" and that students themselves may be partially to blame — shame! The victim, especially when it is a child, is NEVER the one at fault, no matter what the provocation. Even parents of "good kids" and who are diligent in their job can be taken in by these manipulators. The comment that charm is the perpetrator's best weapon is so accurate. We know; we have been there, and it is just like a riptide when it hits.
Carol Masterson, Yakima

The fact that young girls see no difference between dating someone their own age and dating a coach is the very reason they are not at fault. Coaches do know the difference and are always the responsible party if they succumb to a teenage girl's flirtations. Also, is there a truly neutral perspective on the issue of coaches abusing/dating teenage girls? The girls in these cases are victims, not participants in a relationship and should not be held responsible.
Tony Holm, Onalaska, Wash.

Thank you for this article. I went to Roosevelt High School and am currently an assistant coach for gymnastics there. I love being a coach and I am so sad that someone would use something as great as a sport, as an opportunity to harm young women. I knew Devon and remember her as someone who always smiled at me. Thank you, Devon, for your courage and strength to bring this to light. I pray that you will inspire many others to shed light on such an awful issue. Take care.
Lis Seabrook, Seattle

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