Penn State Scandal 'An American Story'
Former NFL player says youth athletic programs offer an ideal environment for predators.
This is the first article in a three-part Patch series focusing on Maryland leaders who are working to prevent child abuse.
Former Baltimore Colts player Joe Ehrmann doesn't mince words.
Without hestiation, this Maryland resident says churches and athletic programs are two of the most dangerous environments for children in America today.
The Penn State sex abuse scandal that broke Nov. 5 certainly lends weight to Ehrmann's theory. Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State football coach, has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys since the mid-'90s through a charity he ran.
Some of Sandusky's alleged crimes reportedly took place inside the university's athletic facilities. The school's president and other university officials have been implicated in a cover-up. Longtime head football coach Joe Paterno was fired. State College, Pa., is in a tailspin.
But this isn't a story isolated to a small college town in central Pennsylvania, said Ehrmann, a former Balitmore Colts defensive linebacker and the founder of the Baltimore-based Coach for America.
"It's an American story. ... We've broken the social contract with children in this country. Here you've got an accustation of a man having sex in a shower and no one takes it to the next level?" Ehrmann asked. "That's an American problem. That's not just a Penn State problem."
Ehrmann, who played football at Syracuse University in the late '60s and early '70s and was drafted to the NFL in 1973, said youth athletic programs offer ideal environments for predators to stalk their young victims.
"In this age of travel teams and individualized coaching and all the things that take place out of the education environment, it's almost every day that there's some predatory coach," he said.
Patricia Cronin, the executive director of The Family Tree, a statewide nonprofit designed to prevent child abuse, said parents need to set boundaries. As a general rule, children should never be left alone with another adult, she said.
"History doesn't suggest that things will change," Cronin said. "Coaches have to be supervised, have to be trained."
Parents should also run background checks on adults who supervise their children, said Stacie Rumenap, president of the national noprofit Stop Child Predators.
"A lot of these programs don't require background checks for their coaches, their scout leaders, their teaders," Rumenap said. "Background checks are inexpensive. That would be one more mechanism for parents to feel safe about who they are trusting their kids too, one more tool."
Ehrmann said the Penn State scandal is primarily a story about a university trying to protect its image and protect a football program, but it should serve as an alarm to all parents.
"It's a wake-up call for every youth program, for every parent of an athlete. What are the policies, procedures and guidelines?" Ehrmann asked. "Ninety percent of them have no guidelines, no policies, no procedures. We have no protective barriers. That is a welcome sign to predators."
The second part of this series will focus on the difficulty prosecuting sex offenders who abuse children in Maryland.