It’s that time of year when parents send their kids off to schools and opportunities near or far away. While this should be a mostly welcome happening, sadly grownups may want to have The Talk with their young adults before they go to college or university.
No, they won’t be discussing just the birds and the bees. They may be talking about an ugly necessity — how young people must know appropriate boundaries and acceptable conduct by adults with responsibilities for their care, specifically athletic coaches and health providers at colleges and universities. This is an issue of rising concern for young women and men.
Yet another sexual abuse scandal has erupted involving dozens of young men in track and field programs, spanning the globe for decades, ESPN reported. The tawdry incidents focus on Conrad Montgomery Avondale Mainwaring, now 67 and hobbled by hip problems.
Los Angeles authorities have charged him, the sports network reported, with “one felony count of sexual battery by fraud, punishable by up to four years in prison. He pleaded not guilty and was released on bail a few days later.”
ESPN investigators and law enforcement officials say they have dug into Mainwaring’s past and have uncovered evidence of a half century of his sexually abusing athletes across two continents. His victims, many middle-aged, only now are stepping forward to describe how he “charmed, groomed, coached and sexually molested” them.
Mainwaring, his victims say, won their trust, admiration, and respect because he himself had competed in the 1976 Olympics for his native Antigua. He coached an athlete who became a gold-medal winner and had other successes. And his resume showed he worked at institutions around the world, from a boys’ camp in England to Syracuse University, the University of Southern California (USC), the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and most recently the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
He may not be brought to justice for many of the cases in which he is accused, because the statute of limitations has run out. But his victims may help in his prosecution, establishing what they say is his history of bad acts. At least one parent says his abuse led to mental torment and the suicide of a victim.
The Mainwaring case and others — at USC (involving a student health gynecologist), at Michigan State (a gymnastics team doctor), at UCLA (a student health gynecologist), at Penn State (football assistant coach), and at Ohio State (a health service doctor) — take a terrible and costly toll, the Associated Press reported: Young victims may be traumatized for life, with hopes, dreams, and careers dashed due to abuse.
This is unacceptable, especially as the crises that have become public have harmed hundreds of vulnerable youths, male and female. The injuries stretched over years, sometimes decades. And the monetary attempts to assist those damaged is heading toward a billion dollars. How did so many grownups, in communities that supposedly celebrate intellectual curiosity and the well-being of the young, look away from persistent sexual abuses?
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage inflicted on them by the betrayal of trust that occurs when medical caregivers fail to provide needed and appropriate treatment. We all want and hope that our white-coated doctors are good practitioners and decent folk. Idealistic young people may want more: They often seek to idolize their teachers, coaches, and doctors. Many of them deserve lionization for the caring and compassion they provide in guiding the young so well into adulthood.
But it also is clear that too many do not. The University of Maryland has been rocked by two scandals over the care of its charges — the negligent and fatal treatment of a promising football player suffering in autumnal heat, and the failure to provide healthful living quarters and to inform students of a deadly campus viral outbreak.
These incidents, combined with the tragic sexual abuse cases, may offer a tough reminder to parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, godparents, and many more adults: Today’s young people may be some of the smartest, most sophisticated, and mature adolescents around. They’re still kids. Our kids.
We may want to think hard about how we can let them know that, if something feels wrong, it may be. If they feel bad, they can find a good ear — whether that’s mom and dad (best), or another knowledgeable and caring adult (the trusted pediatrician at home, the good prof, the beloved high school teacher?). It’s not too late at night or too early in the morning for a chat. It’s not inconvenient or a nuisance, especially if your kid has a concern. If your kid is sick or in distress, physically or mentally, they may need to know that there are plenty of options beyond student health services. Professors, coaches, deans, doctors, and administrators aren’t always right. They can be very wrong. And very bad. We need to know if they’re harming young people — and we’ve got to step up, open our ears and eyes, and ensure the safety and well-being of our kids.