Editorial: Doing right by our young athletes

  • Parents need to know who is coaching their children and make sure they are open to hearing what their kids have to say.

    Parents need to know who is coaching their children and make sure they are open to hearing what their kids have to say. Getty Images

 
Updated 2/11/2022 12:09 PM

The Washington Post investigation reported in this newspaper Thursday detailed accusations of verbal and emotional abuse made over decades against a high profile -- and highly successful -- soccer coach named Rory Dames.

Dames, who coached at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights in the 1990s, ran a club called Eclipse Select for elite players in Chicago and coached the Chicago Red Stars, is in the news now because of recent allegations against him made by players for the National Women's Soccer League.

 

As Post reporters were looking into those allegations, they discovered there had been other accusations of emotional abuse, including belittling, body-shaming and more against Dames going back years, and some of them from former St. Viator students in 1998.

Dames and his attorney deny anything improper ever happened between the coach and his players at any level, saying the complaints came from players with individual grievances against the coach -- like being unhappy with their playing time. He does not stand charged with a crime.

What eventually will happen in the case of Dames is anybody's guess. But moving past Dames, it raises, once again, the specter of gifted young athletes who, as they continue to achieve higher in their sport, frequently become less in control of their own lives. Their vulnerability rises along with their status, as they vie for entry into even better programs and a shot at prestigious college teams or even the pros.

Michelle Peterson, who has consulted on this subject for the National Association of Youth Sports and other organizations, offers some disturbing statistics: That "elite" athletes are at higher risk of abuse; that background checks, while good, have limited value since 90% of child abusers do not have a criminal history; and that sustained emotional abuse frequently makes an athlete vulnerable to even more abuse.

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And, of course, for too many organizations, winning is the elixir that covers up any problems.

We have enough sad history on this subject to be able to point to some truths: It is a red flag to have a coach who isolates young players from other adults or from each other, and/or who has so much power within an organization that even the people who hired the coach are in the dark about his methods.

If you employ such a coach, you need to think less about winning and more about the environment your kids are playing in. If you are a parent, listen to your kids.

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