Archive for Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Commentary: Coaches should learn from La Salle scandal

July 28, 2004

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— Billy Hahn has a good idea, using his nightmare experience as a cautionary tale for other college coaches, administrators and student-athletes.

"I don't know if people will open their doors to me," Hahn said, "but I want to tell this story."

You just hope that Hahn, the former La Salle men's basketball coach, tells the right story.

It was hard to tell from Hahn's words, tone of voice and body language whether he truly understoods what transpired here. He seemed to feel himself a victim, a scapegoat in La Salle's rush to distance itself from two separate rape investigations. In deflecting responsibility toward women's coach John Miller, the university and the alleged victim of the first incident, Hahn didn't seem to comprehend what he might have done wrong.

Hahn should know that he will be more effective if he presents himself not as a victim, but as an example of what can happen when a coach allows himself or herself to be ignorant of federal law and university policy.

When reporters began asking questions that led down that path, Hahn ended the session. That's what made this, like all scandal-related sessions with La Salle officials, not a true news conference. No one, from the university president to the athletic director to the coaches who resigned during the weekend, seems to want to take on the hard issues here.

In his 29 years at six colleges, Hahn said, "No one ever educated me about the Clery Act."

That is the federal law designed to prevent universities from covering up crimes, like rape, that can ruin the institution's reputation.

If Hahn was not educated about that law, or about La Salle policy, then athletic director Thomas Brennan and university president Michael McGinniss have some explaining to do.

"I want to tell (other coaches and administrators) about the honest mistake I made of not knowing my student handbook inside and out," Hahn said, "the honest mistake of me not knowing the athletic policy and procedure manual at the university."

It may be an "honest mistake," but when it leads to an alleged rape that might have been prevented, it is an unacceptable mistake. You can drive a car without knowing traffic laws, but if you break one and injure someone, your ignorance is no defense. That's why La Salle has a handbook.

Hahn is completely believable when he says he and Miller listened to the story of the female La Salle player who said she had been raped by a male player in April 2003. Hahn is believable when he says the two coaches "respected" the decision of the young woman not to pursue charges.

The line between respecting a woman's decision and influencing it can be fine, blurry and open to interpretation. That is why it isn't up to coaches to counsel young women about sexual assaults.

If a player came to Hahn or Miller complaining of a sharp pain in the abdomen, would the coaches let the player decide whether to pursue medical treatment?

They aren't doctors. They aren't judges. They aren't mental-health professionals. They're coaches. Hahn himself said this issue had never come up in his nearly three decades of coaching, so why did he feel qualified to deal with it?

It sounds as if the second alleged sexual assault, which was reported last month and led to the arrests of two of Hahn's players, inspired the first woman to come forward. It sounds as if the woman learned a hard lesson, that her decision to remain quiet may have made the second incident possible.

Rape is a crime. Crimes must be reported. Not to college basketball coaches, but to the police.

It is a lesson Hahn would do well to teach others. That is, assuming he's learned the whole lesson himself.

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