Putting youth sports in the proper perspective

Recent revelations of child sexual abuse by longtime assistant coaches at Penn State and Syracuse, and the tawdry cover-ups and, until now, minimalist responses, have cast college sports in a very bad light. So it was with some admiration that I read this story in yesterday’s Globe about the response of longtime Boston University coach Jack Parker to the misconduct of one of his players. Corey Trivino was 9th ranked BU’s leading scorer this year and is so talented that the now-senior was drafted by the NHL two years ago. Trivino was recently arrested for an alleged sexual assault against a fellow BU student. Before he was even arraigned, it seems, Coach Parker kicked him off the team and took away his scholarship. Unable to pay the school’s tuition on his own, Trivino dropped out of school and but for the fact that the court has now taken away his passport, probably would have returned to his home in Canada.

From the Globe story, here’s an explanation of why Parker acted as he did and why that happened so quickly:

Parker said it isn’t the first time Trivino has been involved in alcohol-related incidents.

“I had to get rid of Corey Trivino from our hockey team because I’d given him a warning in September that if he had another alcohol-related incident on or off campus, I would remove him from the team and take away his scholarship,’’ said Parker.

Parker said he tried on more than one occasion to get Trivino to agree to alcohol counseling, but Trivino refused.

“I tried to get him to get some help,’’ said Parker. “I tried to get him to talk to some people regarding an alcohol problem. He wouldn’t do it, he didn’t think he had an alcohol problem.’’

Parker said he told Trivino he had a problem but Trivino disagreed.

“[I said] One of us is going to be right,’’’ said Parker. “I’m betting you’re going to be sitting in front of me before the semester is over and I’m going to be telling you, ‘You’re out of here.’ ’’

It should be noted that throughout the story, Parker expresses sympathy and support for the victim of the assault and he by no means minimizes it. But he also recognizes the destructive effects of addiction – in this case alcohol – on the lives of young people.

It’s always risky to evaluate things like this from afar. There are multiple sides to every story and we shouldn’t judge too much by a single newspaper article. Still, my impression is that adults often invest so much psychic energy in sports at all levels, but especially in college AND as early as high school, that there’s a tendency to overlook misbehavior by star athletes. Unfortunately, when relatively minor offenses are “taken care of” behind the scenes, it sends absolutely the wrong message to the student-athlete, a message that says you can do whatever you want without consequences because your status as an athlete protects you from the consequences of such bad behavior. And that can only lead to disastrous results, including addiction to alcohol, prescription pain killers and worse. Jack Parker’s response in this case seems to be a model of holding young athletes accountable for their actions, no matter how that may effect the short-term performance of the team.