“The scandal should start a national conversation—perhaps including congressional hearings—on how the pursuit of athletic glory has created sports subcultures on campuses in which no one is accountable to anyone….there is a common feature: a culture that turns athletes into gods and coaches into high priests. When eyes became so blind as to sweep child abuse under the table at one of the most revered programs in the country, the need for a culture of accountability in big-time college sports is more urgent than ever.” Boston Globe editorial – author unknown.
Read this editorial in the Boston Globe and I can’t believe we even have to wake people up to this. It jogged my memory back to an incident (which in no way comes even close to Sandusky’s crimes), but it shows how even on a smaller scale, the lust for winning can have everyone in a state of pathological denial.
I shot this frame at the Oak Park River Forest High School vs Fenwick High School Girl’s Water Polo Sectional in May 2009. I spent many evenings and weekends covering sports at both of these schools and never ran into any trouble. That day I was shooting at Fenwick in my usual position just behind the goal. There was a time-out called and I was just looking down at my camera when a huge hand slapped me and my camera so hard I went flying back. After catching my camera I looked up and realized it was the Fenwick girl’s coach in a major huff after talking to one of the referees. He was upset about a call and he chose to assault me because, well I guess I was standing there.
I looked up in disbelief and caught the eye of a few of the girls on the team and they had their mouths open but quickly said ” Oh, he just accidentally hit you with the ball.” I was like “No, I don’t think so.”
I went over to confront him and he yelled back at me “Who are you anyway?” denying what he had done. I looked over and I couldn’t believe that not one parent or coach was even taking my side. All I could think was “this is a college preparatory Catholic High School?!”
I immediately went to find the athletic director and came across the boys coach who seemed concerned and listened to my story but that was about as far as it went. After the game a couple of older female coaches were like “Oh, he didn’t mean it – he just gets like that and doesn’t even realize he is doing it.”
All I could think was, wow, scary that he is working with a bunch of young girls and exhibiting behavior like this and then they cover up for him? But of course they would and why? They win state just about every year.
I immediately called the athletic director and the principal of the school and then reported it to the IHSA. The principal called me back and was genuinely concerned and upset. I eventually got a call from the athletic director and the coach himself who apologized to me and asked what he could do. It turns out the entire incident was caught on camera, so there was no longer a way to deny it.
This made me feel better, but I was disappointed to learn that the coach was not suspended and he took his team down to win state a couple of weeks later. So who cares if he slaps people around when he’s mad?
In the face of winning or not, when something bad happens, the power of denial is strong – especially when you want to believe the best in others. After he slapped me I had to think “did that just happen?” For a few days I even thought, “well maybe he did just hit me with the ball on accident.”
I was very thankful for the video that caught the incident. I could feel like I wasn’t crazy and maybe he learned a lesson.
It’s just another reason to love cameras.