It may be time to rewrite that country western tune and advise mommas maybe to not let their babies grow up to be athletes, because of the rising chance that they may be sexually mistreated at high amateur levels, even with the complicity of legendary coaches now stained by ugly legacies of abuse.
The disturbing and increasing problems affecting young female and male athletes were only fueled further by a $14 million settlement reached by women in California over five years’ of wrongdoing in a program approved by the sport’s governing body USA Water Polo.
The nightmarish accusations involving an abusive health service doctor and men in the athletic programs at the University of Michigan, meantime, took a grimmer turn with further tawdry revelations about football coach Bo Schembechler by his adopted son and his onetime players.
The Orange County case spread the tarnish of sexual wrongs in elite-level gymnastics for women to yet another Olympic sport: water polo. As the New York Times reported about this scandal, with its legal maneuvers occurring just weeks before the troubled Summer Games are set to begin:
“[Women] players sued USA Water Polo, which sanctions local clubs in the sport, and International Water Polo Club, a club in Los Alamitos, a city in Orange County, Calif., that was led by the coach, Bahram Hojreh. In the lawsuit, the 12 players said that from 2012 through 2017, Mr. Hojreh abused them during what were supposed to be one-on-one coaching sessions in the water. During these sessions, the players contend, he grabbed their breasts and reached under their bathing suits and sexually assaulted them … Mr. Hojreh told the players that they needed to fight him off, the players said, and that what he was doing was showing them techniques they would have to deal with while playing in college. Mr. Hojreh, 45, also faces nearly three dozen criminal charges in connection with the allegations. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges … Money for the settlement will be paid by the insurance company that represents both USA Water Polo and International Water Polo Club, he said.”
Players and parents complained that the coach bragged of his connections in the sport, warning them that they could not advance to its highest levels without his support. As the newspaper reported:
“USA Water Polo said it first learned of the allegations against Mr. Hojreh in January 2018. That is when the organization was contacted by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, the independent watchdog created jointly by Congress and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to investigate sexual abuse allegations in the Olympic sports. ‘Upon being notified by the Center, USAWP immediately suspended Mr. Hojreh’s membership,’ USA Water Polo said in a statement. Mr. Stewart said Mr. Hojreh presented himself to players and their parents as a major figure in the world of water polo … [He] told his players that they had to endure the sexual assault in order to play at a higher level, Mr. Stewart said. ‘And that’s how he kept them silent for a number of years, by basically threatening their future careers.’”
Coach’s son and players speak out
While few coaches have risen to the acclaim accorded to Michigan’s Schembechler, his adopted son, Matt, 62, and two of his players reported at a news conference that the famed, longtime football coach turned a blind eye when told of perverse sexual misconduct by Robert Anderson, the now deceased onetime UM team doctor.
Matt Schembechler said he told his dad and mother that Anderson molested him at age 10 during a sports physical. He said his late mother reported the incident to a now-dead university administrator who said the doctor would be fired — but that his coach-father intervened to keep Anderson in his job.
The players said they suffered lasting damage from Anderson’s misconduct, which was documented in a distressing report by independent investigators retained by the school. They said their trust in others was shattered by knowing that their famous coach shattered his pledge to safeguard them by protecting the team doctor over them, even when he knew of Anderson’s wrongdoing.
Matt Schembechler, who had a troubled relationship with his dad and accused him of physical abuse, told ESPN this of the football icon:
“He was a great coach and made a lot of people happy. He made a ton of money for the University of Michigan filling that stadium up. He provided, for most of those kids that played for him, a great experience. Maybe it was the greatest experience of their life. I think he was a horrible human being.”
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on children and youths by sexual abuse, especially wrongdoing by doctors and others in positions of leadership and trust.
It is unacceptable for our young people to be sexually exploited by adults and especially by those trained and licensed to provide them medical care. It is exasperating and wrong for individuals and leaders to ignore young people when they report sexual abuse or to turn a blind eye to sexual wrongdoing by adults against the young.
How many more cases must occur before grownups learn lessons from huge, costly scandals at the University of Southern California, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, the University of California at Los Angeles, as well as with USA women’s gymnastics, the Boy Scouts, and the Catholic church? We have much work to do to protect the young and vulnerable.