In the court of public opinion, there is no innocent until proven guilty. There is only guilty, even when proven innocent.
This is especially true when it comes to coaches entrusted with the most precious thing to that public: their children. Once a coach has been accused of an impropriety, there is a storm that engulfs that coach, school and community as a whole without any actual facts being presented. On the AB Newswire, there have been a few stories that have caught my attention.
The first was the story of Todd Hoffner, the Minnesota State, Mankato football coach that was fired when child pornography images were found on his work-issued cellphone. He was escorted off the practice field in 2012 and arrested. Those naked pictures? His kids playing after a bath. Despite the charges being dismissed, Hoffner was suspended for 20 days, reassigned to an administrative role before ultimately being fired in May 2013. He is returning to his job after an arbitrator ruled he had been wrongly terminated. His welcome back? His players refusing to practice for him and lobbying that interim coach Aaron Keen keep the head coaching job. They have since changed that stance.
While Hoffner was able to not only find employment but get his old job, it isn't as easy for many others. Brian Lavelle is the former girls basketball coach for Rye City School District in N.Y., and the reason he now has the "former" part attached to his title is because, in 2010, he was accused of stealing credit cards and cash from one of his players. The district falsely asserted that video surveillance showed him stealing out of that student's backpack. He recently won a $125,00 settlement and received an apology from the district, but the damage has been done. Lavelle has been out of coaching for three years, and as he told USA Today's High School Sports, "It destroyed my career." He has been unable to find a local coaching job and has been cut out of the lives of coaching friends and even family members.
And most recently, there's Bearden (Tenn.) High School baseball coach John Rice, who was placed on administrative leave due to what was reported to be Rice pushing a student, something AB readers familiar with the situation dismiss as an angry parent upset with his or her son's playing time. Those AB readers were justified in their defense of Rice as late Monday afternoon, he was cleared of the charge and was able to resume his duties.
The truth ultimately exonerated these respected coaches in the community, but will they ever truly recover? The label is there and the sad truth is that some people will still associate Rice with shoving, Lavelle with stealing and Hoffner with child pornography. It is not fair but it is inevitable. And that's all it takes to destroy someone, an accusation. And because there have been enough accusations proven to be true with coaches on all levels, every accusation is considered to have merit, even when it doesn't. In an upcoming high school safety article, Jay Hammes alludes to the referee shortage that is coming in the very near future due to misbehaving and morally questionable parents and students. In the very near future, those same parents and students could be responsible for a quality coaching shortage, as well.