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Chicago Daily Herald

 

We are no longer waiting for "the other" shoe to drop in the sexual misconduct crisis rocking our country. We are waiting for "another" shoe to drop.

We're all wondering the same thing: "Who's next?"

Politicians have fallen. Businessmen have fallen. Hollywood stars have fallen. Media giants have fallen.

Will the next wave of accusations come from the world of college sports?

Coaches versus athletes?

Think about how many men coach female athletes. According to a study that included the 2016-17 season, females represent 61.6 percent of women's college basketball coaches in Division I (86 schools). That's a drop from 64 percent in the 2015-16 season.

While college athletes are technically of age, they remain subordinates to coaches who are in positions of power.

There have been problems in the past, of course, in all sports. Some male coaches eventually married players they coached. That might be OK and above board, but it raises questions about when those relationships started.

On another level, USA Gymnastics faces a barrage of problems now with team doctors and coaches accused of sexually abusing young athletes in their control over many years.

Clearly, this is not a new problem in women's sports.

I'm curious whether the #MeToo movement will open the floodgates in college sports.

I hope there isn't that level of rampant sexual misconduct in college sports. But given what we've seen in other sectors, I wouldn't be surprised either. Would you?

Let me be clear: I am not saying men coaching women is a bad idea. Nor am I saying that all men, or even most men, who coach women are suspect.

Over the years, I have encountered a lot of great male coaches of women's sports who seem to be stand-up people with high regard for women and the female athletes on their teams.

I'm just saying that male coaches, more than ever, need to be careful with what they say and how they behave. Even the smallest comments or gestures could be misconstrued or misunderstood.

I was coached by a man in high school, and a man in college. I played basketball, and neither one of my coaches was very social with the players.

At the time, I thought that was kind of a negative against them, but looking back now I realize that both coaches were on the right track. Both kept a very defined line between themselves and us, both professionally and socially.

I can count on one hand, for each coach, the number of times I was in their home. In both cases, each occasion involved a team party in which every player, assistant coach and everyone in the coach's family was in attendance.

I also can't remember any private meetings behind closed doors with either coach. If my high school coach or my college coach ever wanted to talk with me privately, I would be pulled aside in the gym during practice with my teammates and other coaches nearby.

I never thought twice about these methods then, but I am sure both coaches were probably being extremely mindful of optics and appearances and not blurring any lines.

Smart.

Both of my coaches had female assistants as well. I'm sure that wasn't by accident.

While those assistants were certainly qualified, they were also female, allowing them to handle issues (potentially sensitive issues) that my male head coaches probably didn't want to touch to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

These are tricky times, far trickier than when I played. I'm all for male coaches, and I would feel fine about my daughter playing for one.

But my advice to male coaches is to be more careful than ever. Especially at the college level, where strong relationships are so crucial and you are asked to build them long before the recruits even arrive on campus.

By the sheer nature of the way college sports work, coach must walk a fine line between friend and superior.

And if it feels like something might be inappropriate, it probably is, so err on the side of caution.

* pbabcock@dailyherald.com Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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