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The Penn State Scandal: Deerfield coaches find teachable moments

The Penn State scandal, and the heated debates, trials, and publicity that ensued after uncovering former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s long-term molestation of young boys, has influenced some Deerfield coaches’ approaches to their sport.

“We have learned a lot about ethics from the Penn State case,” varsity girls’ swimming coach Sonja O’Donnell said. “It makes me wonder about all those coaches of legend and what must have been swept under rugs to achieve that sort of stature.”

She added, “If anything it [the scandal] confirms my commitment to ethical leadership and to the exhausting process of growing ethical leaders. This process involves knowing my team and fostering a climate of open communication and trust.”

Ms. O’Donnell said this meant leading discussions on the effect of advertising media on body image and the misuse of social media with her student athletes.

In response to the scandal, varsity girls’ and boys’ water polo coach Mark Scandling said, “I hope I will continue to value the same standards and perspective I’ve held whether my teams have been winning or losing.”

The NCAA punished the Penn State football program with a four-year restriction on postseason games and a 60 million dollar fine. The act angered some people who said the ruling has hurt students and athletes unrelated to the scandal.

Ms. O’Donnell said the issue of whom to blame is more complicated than it seems.

“The fans, the parents, the schools, the coaches across the country might be deemed responsible for propagating an unhealthy culture for the pleasure of participating, of profiting and of winning,” she said.

“I think the problems occur when a sense of privilege begins to guide the athletes and coaches,” Mr. Scandling said. “When they feel their special talents deserve special rules or exceptions, the problems arise.”

Varsity boys’ cross-country and track coach Michael Schloat said it is society, not sport, that perpetuates such scandals.

“I don’t think sports inherently have a darker side,” Mr. Schloat said. “What we see that we don’t like, such as gambling and abuse, are symptoms of different problems in society.”

Mr. Scandling related Penn State to Deerfield, and how it similarly looked to protect its reputation. “But I don’t believe that effort requires unethical behavior,” he said.

“Deerfield is not immune yet as a much smaller and thus more intimate community,” Ms. O’Donnell said. “I would like to think that we would all be inspired to do the right thing in face of criminal activity, and that would include reporting such behavior and demanding of those in charge to act responsibly with that information. Anytime an institution acts on fear, it is bound to make the wrong decisions.”

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