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Bill would bar sex offenders from youth sports jobs

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Hearing that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has introduced a bill that would bar convicted sex offenders from youth jobs, including coaching and refereeing sports, you might think, aren’t they barred already?

Actually, in the case of nonpublic jobs — which is a lot of youth sports these days — that isn’t the case. Leagues have you fill out the I’m-not-a-convicted-child-molester forms for a background check, but that doesn’t mean the check is thorough, or that you’ll be booted out if it turns out you are indeed a child molester. In New York, the issue of predators working with youth came to light after reports that convicted child sex offenders were working as referees.

The Schumer-proposed bill goes a little something like this (from the Staten Island Advance):

Currently, registered sex offenders can hold various positions that require direct contact with children, such as martial arts instructor, dance instructor, music instructor, magician, clown, amusement park and carnival worker, sports, recreation and entertainment center worker, video arcade employee, child theme party store worker, private tutor, coach for youth sports, youth mentoring facility worker and children museum worker.

Schumer’s legislation would amend current federal law to prevent explicitly convicted and registered sex offenders from accepting paid or volunteer employment positions which by their inherent nature places an individual in direct and substantial contact with minors.

Well, there go any campaign contributions Schumer might get from USA Swimming.

Written by rkcookjr

June 15, 2010 at 1:20 am

Inside a Catholic how-not-to-molest-children class

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John Pilmaier (R) and Barbara Blaine (L) of th...

Image by AFP via Daylife

As you might have heard, the Catholic Church and its pope are in a bit of pickle over new allegations about priests who abused children, and how the church covered up and/or ignored that activity. Of course, this has been a sensitive topic for some time now. How sensitive, I got to see first-hand in 2007 when I was required, in order to coach my son’s fourth-grade Catholic school basketball team, to sit in on special training that was supposed to teach us how to make sure none of the kids on our team were abused, and how not to make sure we put ourselves in a position to be accused falsely of being an abuser.

I wrote the following post Jan. 7, 2009, for my old WordPress blog. I’m bringing it back because it will give you an idea of how some of the most loyal Catholics are dealing with the church’s pedophile problems, and how the church itself is in ass-covering legal mode to the point it’s treating the laity like they were the abusers. Also, because even though my family isn’t Catholic anymore, I’m still getting emails telling me there’s a new online refresher course for my special training.

If you are coaching a team at a Catholic school, or working with children there in any capacity, more than likely you have to go through something called VIRTUS training. Or as I call it, How Not to Molest Children.

I went through VIRTUS two years ago before coaching my son’s fourth-grade basketball team, and my wife went through it this year to teach first-grade CCD (stands for Confraternity of Catholic Doctrine — I had to look that up). I haven’t coached in a Catholic environment since then — the end of that year, we transferred our kids from Catholic to public school — but I still get emails updating me to online training, which I have to keep up with in case I ever do. The latest one came today, which I why I’m writing about VIRTUS now.

The major unvirtuous, if that’s a word, cloud over VIRTUS training is that it was designed by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group — the ones who provide the church insurance to cover costs associated with those pesky priest-molestation lawsuits. Like any corporate lawsuit prevention training, it focuses as much on how not to get in trouble as it does helping the actual, you know, children. It talks about ways to prevent yourself from being falsely accused. And when you go for your two-hour training, one of your first thoughts — well, it certainly was mine — was, why are we here? As I recall, it was clergy that was the problem, not the fourth-grade basketball coaches.

After two hours in the auditorium-like, tiled basement of St. Bede the Venerable in Chicago’s Scottsdale neighborhood, my feelings changed from cynicism to sadness. As easy as it is to joke about diddling priests, it was heartbreaking to the depths to which people have been shaken by the scandal.

I don’t mean that they are questioning themselves as being Catholics, or that they are even sympathetic to the criticisms lobbied at the church. Predictably, some groused the media was making too big a deal out of it. Particularly in Chicago, and particularly on the south side of it, Catholicism is deeply ingrained culture, not merely a place to go on Sundays and worship without ever taking off your coat. Being told not to be alone around a parish child, not to give anyone a ride home who isn’t your own kid, not to leave a kid with a priest until the parents arrived — whatever the sound, ass-covering reasons, for these hardcore, lifelong Catholics, this was like being told that we are not friends anymore. The best (and sometimes worst) thing about life inside a Catholic parish is its intense sense of community, and the message of VIRTUS training was that you no longer could trust anyone.

As you might have gathered, I am not a lifelong southside Chicago Catholic. I was baptized Catholic so my then-nonreligious parents could get me into a Catholic school, and I was later confirmed as an Episcopalian. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Now I go to a church affiliated with the United Church of Christ — letting priests be gay since 1972!] Before I got married to my wife — a lifelong southside Chicago Catholic [EDITOR’S NOTE: Scratch that last word now] — I had priests in two different archdioceses trying to figure out what I was. When I gave the priest my baptismal certificate, he saw that I was four years old when I was baptized and asked me, “This is REAL certificate?” I had no idea passing fake baptismal IDs was such a problem.

Still, I was sympathetic toward people who whole worldview was being rocked good and hard during VIRTUS training. Here we all were, wanting to do good by coaching or teaching kids, and we were being treated as potential molesters first, eyes and ears to potential molestation by others second, and maybe good-hearted people third. The pastor of St. Bede knew the vibe. He had been installed there not long after word broke that the Chicago Archdiocese had reached settlements for molestation by priests, including one who had served at St. Bede. Meanwhile, another former St. Bede priest was already in jail. The new priest, who seemed to me a genuinely nice guy, said a few parishioners greeted him by asking, to his face, if he was a child molester, too.

Guarding against child predators isn’t only a Catholic problem or concern, of course. Everywhere I’ve coached, I’ve had to fill out a form for a police background check. There are too many memories of kid-friendly coaches who turned out to be not so friendly. Heck, just run a quick Google News search and you’ll see it still happens, despite all the precautions. That’s why VIRTUS training exists. Yes, it tries to prevent child predators from entering the system or if they do, from getting out of hand. But it also exists to say to parents, don’t sue us — we tried.

Former New York coaching legend indicted on child rape charges

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Two stories are depressingly common: the youth coach who is accused of molesting members of his team, and molestation occurring within the Catholic Church. The story of former New York Catholic high school coaching legend Bob Oliva, indicted March 25 on two counts of child rape, sadly hits on both counts.

Oliva coached such future NBAers as Lamar Odom, Speedy Claxton, Derrick Phelps and Jayson Williams (talk about your troubled souls) at Christ the King Regional High School in Queens, winning nearly 550 games in 27 seasons before leaving in the 2008-09 season, supposedly for health reasons. He was having heart troubles, but in April 2008 he had already told the school he had been falsely accused of sexual crimes against a former family friend. The boy was Jimmy Carlino, who the New York Daily News said Oliva had called his “godson.”

You know how this story goes. At first no one believes the accuser, and the school and just about everyone else backs up Oliva. Of course, that is not in and of itself some form of evil: you’re innocent until proven guilty, and presumably many of Oliva’s supporters noticed nothing untoward.

But it was a bad sign for Oliva when the Daily News on Feb. 28 published a story about some of his defenders starting to believe the stories of his accuser, especially as they heard former teammates or friends come forward with their own stories about Oliva.

Less a month later, Oliva was indicted in Boston for two counts of raping a child (a 14-year-old boy) in 1976, while in town for a Yankees-Red Sox doubleheader, and one count of disseminating pornography to a minor. Carlino wasn’t named in the indictment as a victim, but he says at that age and that time Oliva took him to Boston and molested him.

I’ll say one more time that officially Oliva is guilty of nothing. But if the pattern holds, more boys-grown-up, emboldened by the walls starting to come crashing down, will come forward. They did when former students sued a Brooklyn prep school over a failure to protect them from a long-time, child-molesting, now-deceased football coach. They did when Andrew King, a 40-year swim coach in the San Jose, Calif., area, got busted for molesting a 14-year-old girl, and authorities found at least 12 other girls reporting similar offenses dating back to 1978. Former 1972 U.S. Olympic swimmer Deena Deardurff Schmidt recently stated she was molested by her swim coach as a child, holding a news conference to support an anonymous swimmer who has sued King and to lambaste USA Swimming for how it handled molestation allegations over the years.

The Catholic Church has a lot to answer for on how it handled its child-molesting priests, but it’s not the only organization that had such issues. Youth coaches have been given god-like powers over the years, and unfortunately many of them took advantage of that stature to take advantage of children. Unfortunately, it’s still happening, even with background checks in place that weren’t around when Oliva started coaching.

Whatever happens with the Oliva case, the lessons for parents remain. If something seems a little weird, then it probably is. Don’t leave your child alone with a coach. Don’t tell your child to do EVERYTHING the coach says. And, for God’s sake, don’t let your child go out of town or anywhere solo with a coach. It’s sad to say this, but it’s the only way to ensure your child’s safety.

Written by rkcookjr

March 26, 2010 at 5:54 pm

With so many creepy coaches, how do you molester-proof your child?

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I don’t make a habit of highlighting every sex-related arrest involving a youth coach, mostly because it would be too depressing, and because I would have to quit full-time work to have time to track them all. Just in the last few days, there have been arrests involving a guidance counselor and basketball coach in Lassiter, Ga., a girls’ high school coach in Indianapolis, an ex-girls’ soccer coach in Wright Township, Pa., a basketball coach in Ashland, Miss., and in what local police called the most gruesome case they had ever seen, a 53-year-old tween-age girls’ softball coach in Taylor, Mich., who allegedly had naked pictures of girls all over his bedroom wall, with head shots of his fiancee’s 15- and 12-year-old daughters superimposed. (The fiancee hadn’t seen the room because she was in prison for armed robbery.)

For all the hoops leagues make coaches jump through — justifiably — to make sure known child predators don’t get close to coaching your kid, it’s clear the problem is this: you don’t know your kid’s coach is a creep until an arrest has been made. (I should say alleged creep, what with this case in Texas where a teacher and coach is trying to get his school board to pay his legal fees after he was acquitted of groping a teenage girl in the library.)

Even a sweeping plan in Great Britain, which makes everyone working with children pay to get in a national not-a-child-molester database, fails because it can’t catch people who are targeting young children, but who themselves have not yet been caught. (It’s been pointed out that the school employee whose murder of two girls inspired the British law was not on any child predator list.)

So as a parent, what are you supposed to do? Other than lock your children in your house?

My best, knows-enough-to-be-dangerous guess comes in the form of a list below. This is gleaned from reading over law enforcement sites, child protection sites, my Catholic church Virtus training, and my own past experience as a journalists covering cops and courts:

1. Don’t assume your child could never be a victim. This does not mean be paranoid and assume every coach is a child rapist. But it does mean taking some basic precautions that ensure their chances of being a victim are reduced.

2. Background checks aren’t always effective, but at least they’re some sort of minimum. If your league doesn’t do them, look for another league.

3. Don’t assume a child molester looks or sounds creepy, or that someone who sounds creepy is automatically targeting your child. The numbers show that those convicted of sex crimes against children pretty much hew to demographics on race, education and religion in general. That’s the danger — that the creepy coach lurks among us in the most banal of existences.

4. Make sure your child’s league has policies that prevent any adult from being alone with a child or children at any time. Heck, even my church requires an adult chaperon when the children’s bell choir rehearses, and there’s one adult leader with 15 kids. The more-than-one-adult-in-the-room rule does two things: minimizes the chances an adult could put a child in a compromising situation, and minimizes the chance that anyone could falsely accuse anyone of anything.

5. Get to know your coach a little bit. Talk to him or her after practice. Email or call from time to time. This is a good idea in general as a way to build a relationship with the coach, and a good coach will appreciate it. Be friendly. If the coach is a potential child predator, he or she will at least get the message that you’re watching. Not that it would prevent everything, but the classic molester MO is to groom victims who have little or no parental involvement, or come from troubled homes.

6. Don’t tell your kid, “Do whatever the coach says.” Children, even teenagers, are literal. You might unwittingly be setting up your child for disaster if you make the coach into an all-powerful authority figure.

7. Talk to your kids about what happened at practice. You don’t need to be at every practice — that just makes everybody, your child included, unnecessarily nervous. But get some details on what happened. You should let your child know you’re watching.

8. Make it clear to your child that you’re willing to listen to them. This isn’t something that’s just about fending off creepy coaches. If you make a habit of listening to your child — not interrupting with a lecture, but listening — your child might come to you if there’s a problem. Also, by listening, you’ll know enough to hear the alarm bells ringing in your head if something just feels wrong with your child or the team situation.

Actually, a lot of these rules have more to do with everyday parenting than they do with sports alone.

Despite the sheer number of coaches that get popped for sex crimes, it’s safe to say that in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases, your child will be coached by someone who, if he or she says has a team of good-looking kids, is talking about their athletic ability. I’m not going to offer my tips as foolproof, because you never know what can happen, and all it takes is one bad coach to ruin lives. But if you keep your antenna up and stay involved, at least there’s demonstrated evidence that any dangerous coach will keep his hands to himself when your child is around.

Oh, by the way: as a coach, I would not be offended if you did any and all these things with me. I would probably thank you for being such a good parent.

Child-molesting coaches and naked swimming: don't tell me about the good old days

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Practice just started for the fifth- and sixth-grade coed basketball team I’m coaching, and I’m fortunate enough to have as assistants two parents who have served as head and assistant coaches in the same league. I said they still needed to fill out the form so the Alsip (Ill.) Park District could check if they’re child molesters, and they nodded their heads. They know the drill.

If you’ve read my headline grabs lately, you might think: why do organizations bother to do this? There’s the gymnastics coach in Florida, the football coach in Washington and the softball coach in Oklahoma among a stream of arrests of youth sports authority figures arrested for sex crimes against the very children they are supposed to be training. It’s enough to make you wonder if, in America, we should be like Great Britain, making everyone pay to be on a Not A Sex Offender List in order to work with children. Heck, some of the vile search terms people use to get to this site makes you want to pour bleach on the Internet.

However, not that it necessarily will make you feel any better, your child is far, far, far, far, far, far, far safer on a sports team than he or should be with the past. That’s because even a cursory look at the local police files and an awareness that child perverts might want to be, you know, around children is well ahead of what like was like when, say, my 39-year-old self was playing first base in the North Muskegon, Mich., Little League in the early 1980s. At least now, an allegation can lead to arrest, and some of the weirder stuff that was pulled without anyone batting an eyelash is no longer looked at as normal.

Former NHL Stanley Cup hoister Theoron Fleury recently reminded us of this when he said in his recent book that he was a molestation victim of junior hockey coach Graham James, who has already served time regarding his conduct toward former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy and other children he coached. And we got another reminder with the continuing saga of the late Philip Foglietta and the trail of destruction he left in a long career as football coach at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, N.Y.

On Oct. 26, seven alumni filed a lawsuit against the school, saying it knew that Foglietta abused “dozens, if not hundreds of boys” during his tenure from 1966-91, and condoned his behavior because he was a successful football coach and raised a substantial amount of money for the private school. A 2005 lawsuit filed by an alumnus was dismissed because the victim did not file it within five years of turning 18. By suing based on a conspiracy, there are no statute of limitations issues.

If you read the victim testimonials on the site of the White Tower Healing Foundation, dedicated to serving the children Foglietta abused — and I would recommend a strong stomach if you do — you can see the coach was the classic molester. He picked out kids from troubled homes, or who were in a precarious situation with the school, or had self-esteem issues, or all those. He started with little touches here and there before graduating to more rank abuse. He sent the message — even if he didn’t have to say it — that any child who accused him of doing wrong would never be believed.

In short, it’s the sort of conduct that has the Catholic church and its members in knots, the classic tale of how an authority figure abused his power and influence to abuse children, destroying young lives in the process.

Why aren’t I hedging and saying that Foglietta was an alleged molester, given he was never convicted of a crime? Because the school in 2002 sent a letter to alumni acknowledging that “a former faculty member/coach” had likely molested children at the school. Also, because Foglietta died the year before that letter was written. The evidence is overwhelming against Foglietta, and there’s also no libeling the dead, you know.

According to the White Tower Healing Foundation, the school got its first complaint against Foglietta in 1972 — so it took 30 years for Poly Prep to cop to what was going on.

But, hey, who in 1972 would believe something like that? Especially in a time when a lot of schools made their kids take swimming lessons in the nude?

Mark Brown of the Chicago Sun-Times for two days, Oct. 27 and Oct. 28, has mined columns about this weird, weird practice, well-known, at least in Chicago, to anyone over the age of 50. At some schools, the boys had to strip naked to swim up until the early 1980s. Sheesh, it’s traumatic enough for most boys to have to change in front of each in the lockerroom. Who the hell thought having every single boy naked for an hour in a cold pool was a great idea?

Brown explains why people thought that was a great idea:

[Chicago radio host Garry] Meier said he and his classmates were given the explanation that school officials didn’t want them clogging up the pool with sand from their bathing trunks. As someone who didn’t frequent the beach, Meier found that to be one of many explanations he’s heard through the years that don’t hold water.

At Thornton High School in south suburban Harvey, former athletic director Ed Fredette said it was just a matter of not wanting to deal with the logistics and expense of providing clean swimsuits to every boy.

“It was a total embarrassment. It really was for years,” Fredette said, meaning for all concerned, not just the swimmers. Fredette said he finally got the school to provide boys with swimsuits, which had been the practice all along for girls.

Still, he said he never heard a complaint at the time from students or parents.

“You think we could do that today? No way, Dick Tracy,” said Fredette, now 73 and living in Alabama.

So while there are still plenty of coaches who get in trouble for abusing children, it’s not nearly as bad and strange as it was in the good old days. I think I see you all nodding your heads. You know the drill.

Written by rkcookjr

October 28, 2009 at 9:41 pm