Sex, Sexual Abuse, and Sports

Given the recent, multiple sexual abuse scandals in sports (from Penn State to Syracuse, and now even the Amateur Athletic Union) it’s not surprising that this past weekend two major newspapers published stories on the ways in which sports can provide a breeding ground for pedophiles (click here to read The New York Times’ take, “Coaching Gives Abusers Opportunity and Trust,” and here to read Minnesota’s Star Tribune’s, “Sports can act as cover for abusers“).  Both pieces highlight that the impacts and complications for boys are different than those for girls.  The NYT explains that girls are far more likely to be abused, but it is suspected that the abuse of boys is under-reported given the hyper-masculine environment of sports and persistent fear about homosexuality. Still, sexual abuse of young girls by adult males is presumed to happen more often.

While I understand the context of sports, sexuality, and sex/gender that the writers refer to, I can’t help but observe that it is really the sexual abuse of boys that gets the media attention.  This has also been true over the years– recals the Catholic Church sexual abuse cases and allegations of sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts, for example.  What’s especially interesting to me, in this moment, is that a similar story about sexual (and in this case, also physical) abuse in youth sports has been pretty much overlooked by the mainstream media: that is the story of Don Peters, Doug Boger,  and “women’s” gymnastics.

I first wrote about this story in early October, long before the Sandusky news broke.  But beyond the excellent work of The Orange County Register, which continues to follow developments in the case (for instance, in the past week they reported that a convicted sex offender has regained control of a Colorado gym where he is still around young girls), other major print outlets have virtually ignored this case of abuse.  Sure, it warranted a sentences in the Times’ coverage on Saturday. But that is not even close to commensurate to the coverage of male abuse victims.

Will it be the sexual abuse of boys that pushes legislators to better protect youth athletes?  If so, does this seem right to you? Do you believe boys and girls will be equally protected by whatever changes come in the aftermath of these (youth) sports sexual abuse scandals?

Share

Comments

  1. Dr. Friedman – Thank you for your kind words in the comment section at The New Agenda. When I found your article and started researching for the one I wrote for TNA, I was completely shocked to discover how difficult it was to find any information on the cases concerning Peters, Boger, and Zapp, especially Boger and Zapp. Regarding Boger and Zapp, you are the only person to have written about it other than the local news for Colorado Springs. I will likely do another article for my own website on this, but expanded. I hope you don’t mind getting another trackback from me within the next few weeks. Thank you for YOUR work on such an important topic!

    • Of course– feel free to trackback! Look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

      I also wanted to mention that The OC Register has done excellent reporting on this issue.

      • Yes! Without looking at my notes, that may have been the other one. But it should have been all over CNN and the rest of the “majors”, too! Again, thanks for even bringing these cases to everyone’s attention. I wouldn’t have heard of it, otherwise!

      • Kathy Johnson Clarke says:

        Hillary, please give credit where it is most due. It has not been “The OC Register” that pursued this, after a month’s long investigation. It has been, specifically, Scott Reid. It is HE to whom the credit is due, even as this decades-of-horror-within-gymnastics has gone grossly under-reported by mass media.

        • Kathy- Thank you for the information and please thank Scott Reid! I hope his work is nominated for some sort of award.

          • Kathy Johnson Clarke says:

            Of course! And I will forward this link to him, as well, to ensure that he sees your note.

            BTW: My use of an apostrophe instead of a hyphen made it seem as if Scott had invested only a month’s time in his investigation; i.e., “after a month’s long investigation.”

            In point of fact, he was on top of his investigative prep for nearly half a year before the first article appeared, so it should have read, “after a months-long investigation.”

            He was unrelenting and is, indeed, most deserving of an award. Many of us would love to see him recognized with a Pulitzer!

        • Kathy Johnson Clarke says:

          Hilary, my apologies for the misspelling on your name; ala Hillary Clinton. 🙂

        • Hilary, thank you for bringing this to the forefront again, I think the girls are getting lost in the midst of the other scandals – all worthy of scrutiny, condemnation and continued publicity.

          I do wonder why the “outing” of the gymnastics coaches and their criminal behavior with their female athletes was so quickly buried when the crimes against males exploded.

          Sandusky is under indictment. Paterno is gone. Fine is gone. Dodd is gone. Peters and Zapp remain despite their public condemnations.

          I’d like to see us value the girls as much as we do the boys.

  2. Blaire Pancake, Tagliaferro Donna and Emilia Juocys like this.

    Rebecca Pearson Casciano I was just saying this to someone the other day. I have my theories as to why. Maybe I’ll start a competing blog 🙂
    December 13 at 7:29pm · Like
    Hilary Levey Friedman I really want to know your thoughts!
    December 13 at 8:22pm · Like
    Jean C. Han Perhaps because men abusing girls may seem more normal (as in hetero-normal) than men abusing boys. Could be part of people’s homophobia (conscious or not).
    December 13 at 9:20pm · Like
    Hilary Levey Friedman Yes, I totally agree about the homophobia, but I would think that would create media silence around the issue rather than media uproar, no?
    December 13 at 9:29pm · Like
    Jean C. Han Actually, I think that may be why there’s more of an uproar–men abusing boys is more “wrong” then men abusing girls. As terrible as it is to abuse girls, perhaps people find it more understandable than abusing boys.
    December 13 at 9:37pm · Like · 1
    Hilary Levey Friedman That might be right. And there seems to be a huge emphasis on protecting the “boys” identities, even when they are now men.
    December 13 at 9:45pm · Like
    Tagliaferro Donna great article Hilary….I can imagine that this might happen a lot in girls gymnastics
    December 13 at 11:57pm · Like
    Jennifer Piscopo I think Jean is exactly right. Masculinity is more highly prized in our society, and so acts that seem to destabilize masculinity- such as men-on-men pedophilia – are more scandalizing and more noteworthy. Women are routinely cast as victims, whereas men are not… so the victimization of men violates more taboos and challenges social hierarchies, and thus causes more outrage. Of course, the greater attention given to male victims cycles right back into the problem that women or girls, as “natural” victims, often have their claims of abuse doubted by the system.
    December 14 at 1:09am · Like
    Jennifer Piscopo Oh, one more comment: the Penn State scandal became a scandal because it involved football, the bastion of hyper-masculinity in America (and I say this as a diehard NFL fan). Had the same magnitude of abuse occurred on a soccer team it would not be national news.
    December 14 at 1:12am · Like
    Jordan K Valdez I think that you are getting a lot of opinions from the girls side – Let’s try and balance this out. I think it is borderline naive to to boil this down to a boy/girl issue. The fact is that news is a business and they have to report what sells. It is pretty simple, before either indecent how many people in America could name the gymnastic coach, conversely how many could name Sandusky. I despise football and love gymnastic and even I could name the later….
    December 14 at 1:16am · Like
    Jordan K Valdez In addition, it is the major cover-up that lead to the fevered news coverage. The same could be said for those molested within the Catholic church. There are more factors to these stories that make them BIG NEWS. It is all horrible. I will also say this. Growing-up I always remember learning about stranger danger in class and it was never taught to me that a man might pray on a boy…. To act as though our society does not care about the molestation of girls – or at least not as much – is kind of redic.
    December 14 at 1:21am · Like
    Jordan K Valdez P.S. I love your blog. You are too freaking smart! I love me a thinker that makes you think!
    December 14 at 1:23am · Like · 1
    Hilary Levey Friedman Jenn- I think your points regarding female victimhood and the fact that this is FOOTBALL (and not soccer, etc.) are spot on. Probably baseball would produce similar coverage, and perhaps basketball. Although, interestingly, there has been a major hockey case in Canada that has not gotten as much play.
    December 14 at 9:02am · Like
    Hilary Levey Friedman Jordan, you are DEFINITELY right that this is a media issue and an issue about what “sells.” I should have been clearer that it’s the media discourse that interests me, because I think it is all heinous. That said, I wonder if the gymnastics issues will get more coverage next summer during the Olympics (where the female gymnasts are pretty much the unequivocal media darlings). I love generating this much discussion– thanks!
    December 14 at 9:04am · Like

  3. Hello…. I posted my piece on my own blog expanding on treatment of violence against women in the media. There is so, so much more to be written on this subject. Here’s a short link, if you’re interested. http://wp.me/p1BPQT-hm

  4. Hello,
    My name is Charmaine Carnes and I was one of the many girls who were involved with the Scott Reid story. I want to personally thank you for frankness and honesty regarding what I feel should have been picked up by every major sports channel, paper and magazine in the country. My former coach Doug is a monster, and has been allowed to be for over four decades now. Don Peters was the head coach for our winning 84′ team, you mean the public (at least sports fans) would not be interested in the story of the man who coached Mary Lou during her Olympic glory? What about a story in Gymnast Magazine at least?
    Scott Reid did an amazing job of handling the story with kindness and class. I can’t say that about the rest of the players involved, or perhaps I should say “not involved”. If there is anything that I can do to help further the cause of women, little girls, getting the same level of compassion shown to their male counterparts, please don’t hesitate to ask.
    Charmaine Carnes

    • Thank you for reading and for being brave and smart enough to share your story and experiences.

      Are you still at ll involved with gymnastics?

Trackbacks

  1. […] and sociologist Hilary Levey Friedman, Ph.D. recently asked, “Will it be the sexual abuse of boys that pushes legislators to better […]

  2. […] the recent sexual abuse scandals in youth activities (and specifically girls in gymnastics), which I’ve written about here, it strikes me as odd that we don’t pay more attention to activities where we know girls have […]

  3. […] and sociologist Hilary Levey Friedman, Ph.D. recently asked, “Will it be the sexual abuse of boys that pushes legislators to better […]

Speak Your Mind

*