Monday, November 21, 2011


Joe Ehrmann, President, Coach for America
Former Baltimore Colt

The reflective and regretful six words uttered by Penn State Coach Joe Paterno,
“I wish I had done more,” could very well summarize what each of the men
indicted or fired at Penn State must be feeling for their role in not stopping a
predatory coach from sexually victimizing young boys.  Arguably, each of these
men is a “good man.”  But that’s part of the problem – it’s not enough to just
be a “good man” – you have to engage in what is around you and become a man of
action.  An involved man’s voice and actions are in alignment with his moral and
ethical beliefs.  Moral courage enables us to stand up for what is right even if
it means standing alone or risking rejection or negative consequences.  But as
Edmund Burke stated, and the shameful inactions at Penn State illustrate, “all
it takes for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  Evil prevailed
at PSU due to an extremes lapse in moral courage.  What keeps us from being
conscious and courageous enough to protect the hearts, souls and bodies of
children?  How could it be that for over fifteen years, at least nine boys were
sexually abused?

I want to suggest three steps to demand accountability for the safety and
protection of every child everywhere and to help good men and women become
involved persons of action in the war against child abuse.  My hope is that by
implementing these steps, adults will become better protectors of those who
cannot protect themselves.  May we stay ever mindful of Joe Paterno’s parting
words, “I wish I had done more.”

Step 1) Teach, model, nurture and develop moral courage

As I write in Chapter 6 of InSideOut Coaching:  How Sports Can Transform Lives,
moral courage is what sustains the basic freedoms and responsibilities of life
in community; we belong to each other; we need each other; we affect each
other.  What is painfully missing in this horrific story at Penn State is the
lack of moral courage displayed by men who spent a lifetime in education,
leadership, sports, coaching and working with young people.  Courage can be
divided into two types:  physical and moral.  Of the two however, physical
courage is the more recognized virtue in the world of sports.  Coaches talk
about physical courage, encourage it, and hold up examples to the team often in
the context of fighting through injuries, rehabilitation, and pain.  There is
far too little emphasis, teaching, modeling, nurturing and developing of moral

Since moral courage can be likened to a muscle; it can be strengthened and
developed through training and proper nourishment.  I challenge each coach,
teacher, parent, administrator, and all of us, to seize this unfolding story of
PSU as an opportunity to evaluate the strength of our own moral courage and
start integrating practical skills that build and strengthen these muscles to
act in the face of injustice into your daily conversations, lesson plans and
practices.  Every day young people are tempted to break moral codes over a
missing homework assignment, engage in gossip, and boast about some sexual
proclivity of themselves or others.  Think of the myriad of other academic, peer
or social pressures on young people to conform to self-preservation at the
expense of their own moral well-being.  This is an opportunity to engage young
people in an age appropriate discussion of moral courage and the devastating
results when the muscles of moral courage are atrophied and impotent.  It is
time for every individual and institution to take responsibility for the
development of moral courage.  Institutions leaders cannot build moral courage
into others when the strength of that leader’s courage is weakened.  How an
institution holds its adults accountable for the growth and protection of our
children should be a measure of its own moral courage, not what is politically
safe.  If we are taking responsibility for our young people, let’s have the
moral courage to back it up so the next time a crisis occurs none of us will
ever have to say, “I wish I had done more.”

Step 2) Create policy, procedures and accountability to protect children

We must demand the highest standards of accountability at every level
individually and institutionally.  Coaches by the very nature of their power,
platform and position in the lives of young people must be screened and educated
to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to threats of child abuse and then
held accountable to enact them.  In fact, every Institution should have policy,
training and accountability built into its culture to protect children under its
care.  However, we are, or should be, painfully aware of the institutional
self-protection and denial of the church and other institutions that allow
predators to abuse young bodies and souls.  Each day, we are reminded of the
long list of institutions over the course of history that preferred to protect
themselves rather than protecting children.  This institutional
self-preservation has historically permitted pedophiles, molesters and abusers
the access and sanctuary to destroy the hearts, minds and souls of millions of
children.  When there are no guidelines or protective procedures, teams and
leagues literally open the door for abusers.  And in our ever expanding
competitive youth sports universe, there are too many schools, leagues, teams
and programs that have failed to place protective barriers around our children.

Every youth sports program should have policies, training and sexual abuse
awareness in place for players, parents, coaches and administrators.  If they
don’t—demand it.  It is not enough to say you have a policy.  If coaches and
volunteers don’t know the policy or are not held accountable to its rules, then
it is just a set of words on paper.  Every principal, board member, athletic
director, coach and parent should demand these protective procedures are in
place and being practiced.  Don’t be afraid to speak up and find out what
protective procedures are in place.  “I wish I had done more,” never needs be a
final statement since, “we always can do more.”

Step 3) Act morally courageous and responsible to prevent child sexual abuse

As a nation we seem to be paralyzed by beliefs and feelings around the subject
of child sexual abuse.  It appears too shameful, uncomfortable or impolite to
talk about personally or publically.  I know as a survivor of child sexual abuse
since I carried a shame that silenced me for almost 50 years before revealing my
abuse in InSideOut Coaching.  Since the book was released in August, I’ve been
amazed at how many people have emailed, called or approached me to share their
own stories of abuse or the abuse of loved ones.  Adult retrospective studies by
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6
men were sexually abused before the age of 18.  This means there are more than
42 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S.  Too many of us are
silent because we have not sought the help needed to overcome the social stigma
attached to sexual abuse.  I know for me and this part of my life journey I will
continue to find my voice and stand up, show up and speak out in hopes of
preventing another tragic story of failed moral courage and human

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of man is not where
he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of
challenge and controversy.”  In the face of this tragedy, and in prevention of
future crimes against children, I think each of us should ask what we can do to
help prevent child sexual abuse so we never have to hear ourselves lament, “I
wish I had done more!”

As I emphasize in InSideOut Coaching, the defining, developing, and
demonstrating moral courage must be woven into the fabric of coaching, teaching,
parenting, and leading youth.  At Coach For America, we believe that sports is a
dynamic arena in which moral courage is and can be demonstrated every day.  This
is what we are striving for and in that striving will come the end of many of
our social ills and the regretful response, “I wish I had done more.”

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