Commentary

Staffs reminded about reporting crimes

Originally Published: December 1, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

When then-Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow came up with the idea of giving her school's student-athletes an anonymous survey after every academic year, she wasn't thinking about trying to prevent crimes like the recent alleged sexual abuse scandals at Penn State and Syracuse.

Debbie Yow
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeNC State AD Debbie Yow has been proactive in sending out anonymous surveys, and she didn't even have the Penn State or Syracuse allegations in mind.

But included among Maryland's anonymous survey for student-athletes was this question: "Have you experienced any inappropriate touching by coaches or administrators?"

"I wasn't thinking about this at all," said Yow, now athletic director at North Carolina State, where she still administers the survey to student-athletes. "Who would have been thinking about this?"

Yow said she was trying to determine whether any coaches or administrators had physically abused athletes, like hitting or slapping, or whether male coaches might have had inappropriate relationships with female athletes. Yow said the thought of male coaches molesting boys never entered her mind at the time.

"I have a heart for [student-athletes], having been a student-athlete and then a coach and now an athletics director," Yow said. "There can be a sense of weakness and powerlessness if it's just you and your coach."

Yow said she believes the surveys need to be administered to every student-athlete each year to correct potential problems as soon as possible. She also believes the surveys need to be anonymous, so athletes can be as honest as possible, without fearing the consequences of being truthful.

"Every once in a while, I'll get a student-athlete who puts his or her name on it and that's courageous," Yow said.

The alleged sex-abuse cases involving athletic department personnel at Penn State and Syracuse have caused schools around the country to examine their procedures for reporting crimes and to remind their coaches, athletes and employees about their responsibilities in reporting such crimes.

Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin, who worked at Baylor when a men's basketball player murdered another player in 2003, said covering up a crime will only make it worse.

"We have a tendency to lift the rug up only far enough to deal with what we've heard," Stricklin said. "What I took from Baylor is that you have to rip the rug out and get everything out there as fast as you can."

University presidents and athletic directors around the country have sent letters and emails to employees and students, reminding them of their duty to report crimes and the consequences they'll face if they don't.

In an email to faculty and staff last month, Minnesota president Eric Kaler wrote that the events at Penn State "should make all of us in higher education stop and think about our actions if confronted by similar circumstances."

"I write to remind you, emphatically, that any University of Minnesota employee who witnesses a sexual assault on campus, or a sexual assault involving our employees on or off campus, is expected to report the assault to law enforcement immediately," Kaler wrote.

[+] EnlargeScott Stricklin
Kelly Lemons/Getty ImagesMississippi State AD Scott Stricklin knows about university scandals, having worked at Baylor during a murder investigation.

"You should know that I will not tolerate retaliation against anyone who makes such a report in good faith. It should go without saying that no University program or official is more important than the safety of individuals on our campuses, especially children. The University will support any employee who reports a suspected crime in good faith, no matter how powerful any opposing forces might appear to be."

Dozens of other university presidents, chancellors and athletic directors from coast to coast delivered similar messages to their faculties and students.

• University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman wrote an open letter reminding people to call 911 or police if they see a crime in progress. "This is a chance to remind one another that a community's values are lived out in the actions of each of us as individuals," she wrote.

• Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo said his school conducts pretty thorough background checks when hiring coaches and other employees. But DeFilippo said schools might now scrutinize a potential candidate's background even more extensively in light of the Penn State and Syracuse cases.

"Most athletics directors have always done background checks when hiring coaches and/or administrators," DeFilippo said. "In light of the recent allegations, I would think that in the future we will all take extra precautions when hiring."

• In a letter to Penn State, NCAA president Mark Emmert delivered a message that reminded all member institutions about their responsibilities in protecting children.

"It is critical that each campus and the NCAA as an association re-examine how we constrain or encourage behaviors that lift up young people rather than making them victims."

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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