GOING OUTSIDE TITLE IX TO KEEP COACH-ATHLETE RELATIONSHIPS IN BOUNDS
DEBORAH L. BRAKE*
Coach-athlete “romances” are the dirty little secrets of sport. No one wants to talk about them. Now and then, a high profile scandal rips through the headlines—as when University of North Carolina’s legendary soccer coach, Anson Dorrance, was accused of sexually harassing his players.
1 On these infrequent occasions, the glare of the media spotlight forces a brief period of introspection about the proper boundaries of the coach-athlete relationship. Even then, it is mostly the extreme allegations that garner attention—conduct clearly identifiable as sexual harassment, especially if it involves a sexual assault. In the case of Coach Dorrance, the complained-of behaviors were verbal and did not involve physical advances; 2 the notoriety of the case stemmed from the coach’s fame and track record and its addition to a small handful of reported court decisions involving coach-athlete sexual harassment in intercollegiate sports.3 Absent headline-grabbing scandals, however, coach-athlete relationships are rarely examined for their impact on womens sports and athlete well-being. This is largely because they do not come within the ambit of Title IX, which sets the agenda for conversations about gender equity in sport.
Training to be an elite athlete requires discipline and focus beyond what any of us can imagine if we haven’t had such experience ourselves. Parents must bring that same discipline and focus to child/athlete protection and be committed to ensuring a safe and positive environment sports environment.
Taking short cuts is intentionally skipping a responsibility in the hope that no one will notice or someone else will do it. An athlete knows that skipping a work-out or eliminating ten more repetitions at practice is the difference between winning and losing. When the well being of our children is at stake, short-cuts simply cannot be acceptable.
Taking short cuts in practice is often frowned upon by teammates. If team members have to do an entire workout to the best of their ability, then every team member commits to achieving this goal. The pressure around teams to be individually accountable is so strong it’s at the heart of the sport and the basis of the sport work ethic. As long this pressure on each other stays within safe and positive and doesn’t extend it’s self into bullying (more on that issue at www.safe4athletes.org), the result is impressive. Similarly, parents need to pressure each other to be concerned about issues of athlete welfare.