These days, college sports are big business. But even years ago, the importance of sporting programs at universities is hard to overstate.
Both now and back then, failing to make a team or win a starting position could spell doom for a student, and hurt a student’s academic standing in the short run and hurting his or her earning potential in the long run, especially a student from a lower or middle income family. This pressure on student athletes gives coaches and team doctors massive power, power that is tragically sometimes abused with devastating consequences.
Consider Shawn O’Brien, who gave massages to members of women’s basketball, tennis, softball and soccer teams at the University of Kansas at Lawrence. Last month, he was arrested by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and charged with ‘indecent liberties with a child’ after a girl accused him of touching her sexually seven or eight years ago under the guise of a “massage.” He also reportedly had the audacity to tell the youngster that she shouldn’t tell anyone what happened because he said massages were “really expensive” and she was “lucky” to get one for free.
University Chancellor Doug Girard and Athletic Director Jeff Long said in a statement Thursday that they were “deeply troubled” by initial findings of an internal inquiry into O’Brien. They refused, however, to disclose which teams had contracts with O’Brien.
(Until recently, O’Brien was also listed as the owner of Kamehameha Massage.)
Or consider disgraced University of Michigan Dr. Robert Anderson, who was closely involved in the school’s athletic department for decades, including helping famed athletic director Don Canham cut costs by requiring annual physicals and teaming with legendary football coach Bo Schembechler to set up an important drug testing program.
Anderson’s sexual assaults were so well known among Michigan athletes, accusers have said, that he earned nicknames — “Dr. Drop Your Drawers” and “Dr. Glove.” He reportedly gave unnecessary rectal and testicular exams to students. He also allegedly traded sexual favors for letters to Vietnam-era draft boards establishing men as homosexual and thus make them eligible for a draft deferment.
(Ironically, the university hired a law firm, Steptoe and Johnson, that represented the late abusive financier Jeffrey Epstein and abusive director Roman Polanski.)
At least one student athlete, a former wrestler named Tad Deluca, came forward last month saying that he lost his scholarship and was thrown off the team after reporting that Dr. Anderson had abused him.
Then of course there are other, even more notorious child molesting coaches or trainers, including Jerry Sandusky of Penn State, Dr. Larry Nassar of USA Gymnastics and Dr. Richard Strauss of Ohio State University.
The list goes on and on.
And the result of these awful men and the schools that hired and protected them? Hundreds or thousands of innocent, ambitious, talented and disciplined young people whose promising futures were suddenly and severely shattered by selfish, sick doctors and coaches.
But as the links here show, just like courageous victims in churches and scouting programs have done, courageous college and high school athletes are demanding justice, prevention and the truth. We admire them, wish them well and stand ready to help.