I grew up playing hockey despite my parents’ constant refrain “You can play any sport you want. Except hockey and football.” My parents were concerned for my safety. But when the Muzzi’s moved in down the street and I saw Tony roller blading on the sidewalk, I ran into the house and told my parents “I want to play hockey.” As a five year old, Tony was the coolest person I had ever seen. Something about the way he would glide down the sidewalk captivated me. I wanted to glide like that.
After investigating the sport, my parents realized that contact and violence were slowly introduced. A few months after I begged them to let me play, my parents took me to Play It Again sports to outfit me with hockey gear. The helmet and skates didn’t fit right, but they were good enough for a Mini Mite. The salesman handed me a hockey stick without any curve on it and told me to hold it however it felt comfortable. That’s how I found out that I play hockey like Wayne Gretzky: a righty playing left handed.
I idolized my coaches despite not remembering many of them anymore. I remember coach Cooke because he made me captain of the team and selected me #1 overall in the open draft for players one year. I remember coach Mann because he was the best coach I had ever had, and because he arranged to have MSU goalie Ryan Miller come to a practice—I scored on him, but I’m relatively sure he wasn’t looking. Coaches were authority figures in a way that parents and teachers couldn’t be. In the locker rooms, they swore and talked about girlfriends. They were usually younger than my parents and didn’t seem like such stringent disciplinarians. Coach Mann advocated heart punches: if you screwed up in practice, he would punch you in the heart in the locker room. This probably wasn’t a great idea, but my favorite coaches were the ones that inspired you to play well but acted like your peer, despite being old enough to have birthed you.
One year, either in Squirts or Pee-Wee, our team had a new coach that I didn’t recognize: coach Taylor, I think, though I don’t remember exactly. Everyone loved Coach Taylor. He had an attractive wife and bragged about it in the locker room. He had two young children who used to come on the ice and practice with us. He was everything you wanted in a coach: a good motivator, someone who swore and talked about girlfriends, but also inspired you to go out on the ice and play your best hockey.
As the season wore on, Coach Taylor would invite the players to come watch him play hockey after our games. Players would hang out with him at the ice rink after practices and watch him skate later that night. My parents never let me stay despite my desire to hang out with Coach and the team. The players loved Coach Taylor. Eventually, he began inviting everyone to come over to his house and hang out. Once again, my parents never let me go. I felt left out when the team laughed about playing video games at his house over the weekend.
Then one night, my parents received a call. There were parent meetings and rumors of weird things going on at Coach Taylor’s house. At the next practice, we were told that Coach Taylor was no longer our coach and that he wouldn’t be allowed back ever. We were warned to cut ties with him. To this date, I don’t know exactly what happened—my parents never told me—but the bits I can remember included something unsavory in a shower. His wife left him and I don’t believe he was allowed to see his children anymore.
A few years later, my mom and I were walking around a Target when we came across Coach Taylor. My mom hurried us away and wouldn’t let me talk to him. This was the first time that I can remember feeling that adults—adults in my limited world, anyway—did bad things.
There’s no moral to this story and I won’t try to force its narrative on the one that’s currently playing out at Penn State. Sports seem like an avenue to gain access to young children, and how you monitor and control that is what really needs to be addressed in the wake of this scandal. With such a young and possibly at-risk population, reform and questions should be directed at the oversight of these charities and youth sports. The administration and athletic department at Penn State failed miserably in this regard, but that’s in the past. Now we need to establish ways to ensure that this never happens again.