By Lindsay Gullingsrud
As a parent, mentor, and responsible adult, you have made my job of raising a boy to become a responsible man increasingly more difficult over the years. I have a 13-year-old son who strongly identifies as an athlete. In fact, if he isn’t playing sports with his friends, he is watching them on television. When he was a toddler, my husband and I supported extracurricular activities, and any opportunity that he had to engage in constructive time with adults and his peers. It didn’t matter to us whether it was sports or drama, musical instruments or the chess club–we were more interested in providing opportunities to support and nurture our son’s interests and talents. As responsible parents, we knew that by starting him early and getting him into a healthy peer group with healthy adult mentors, his chances of having a positive school experience would increase. And, that ripple effect would travel far into adulthood.
Over the past few years, however, we have had more conversations about what it means to be an athlete. We have initiated these conversations because we have seen more and more examples of athletes who do not act with integrity on the field, much less off. Moreover, we are also seeing institutions that continually choose not to hold such athletes to a high level of accountability. This makes my job as a parent increasingly more difficult as I talk with my 13 year old about concepts of not only skill and athletic ability, but the fact that what happens both on and off the field is what makes an athlete both a leader and role model.
Given the recent filing of child sexual abuse charges against former Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky, as well as the actions Penn State has chosen to take to hold all involved accountable for their inaction, our conversations have shifted to include the responsibilities of those who are in leadership and role model positions. The parents and guardians of these victims did the right thing. They tapped into the interests and talents of these young boys in order to provide a positive opportunity for them to be nurtured and grow. As parents, they did what was right. It was Jerry Sandusky who chose to use his position as an opportunity to sexually harm. And, people in leadership positions chose not to intervene and stop that harm, for whatever reason, allowing even more children to be harmed.
I watched the Penn State football game last Saturday and, after the game, reporters asked about the shifts coaches may have had to make without their former head coach. Jay Paterno made an insightful comment when he talked about there being a blue line when coaches and athletes enter the stadium. That blue line stands for focusing on the task at hand and leaving everything else that is out of their control behind the blue line. My question is: Where is the blue line for athletes, coaches, and decision makers when they step off the field? Where is the blue line that holds everyone to a standard of honor and integrity? Where is the blue line that tells us that we must step in when we see someone being sexually abused? Where is the blue line that tells us that this is within our control, and as leaders and mentors, we must intervene to stop sexual abuse?