Is Soccer Coach Innocent or Guilty?

A couple weeks ago a story ran on the front page of the Sunday paper, the Arizona Daily Star. It was about two local club soccer coaches who had lost their coaching privileges due to allegations of inappropriate conduct. I was quoted in this article.

The reporter on the story found me through an “Internet search,” because my daughter belonged to the club where the coaches were last employed in Tucson. She’s no longer in this club, but because I was a team manager last year, I was on some kind of list. Apparently so was our phone number.

Turns out I knew the coaches in question, however, I had no idea about the allegations and found the story shocking, disturbing and sad. These two men were very good coaches, and my daughter never had a problem with either one. The reporter asked if I thought the club owed it to the membership to share the information about the allegations, which were upheld by the AYSO (Arizona Youth Soccer Organization).

I really wasn’t sure. I didn’t know how I—or my daughter—would benefit by having this knowledge. If anything, I simply wanted to know the truth, and by answering the phone that day, this reporter made the truth of the story my business.

So, after I spoke with him, I asked a few questions of my own. (I used to be a reporter, too). I found out that the club administrators were not officially made aware of the AYSO decision against the two coaches because neither was employed by the club when the ban went into effect. And because of a lot of inter-club politics/competition/fighting, the club in question wasn’t willing to talk to the reporter, who—as it turns out—happened to be a coach for one of the competing clubs.

Suddenly, the story smelled a little bit like a conflict of interest. I confronted the reporter on this “allegation,” and he claimed to have no inside information about the case and no knowledge of the depth and drama between competing local soccer clubs. He also claimed his editor was fully aware of his personal involvement with local youth soccer.

Anyway, because representatives from the club that formerly employed the accused coaches wouldn’t talk to the reporter to provide a lot of pertinent details to the story/case—and it didn’t have the obligation or even the legal right to inform past and current club members about the allegations—this became the job of the newspaper. And it used a sensational front-page headline to do so.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe all the facts were presented.

Consequently, the article succeeded at tarnishing the names and reputations of the coaches (and the club) and follow-up articles further reported that one of the coaches (the one still coaching soccer in California) resigned from his university coaching job as a result of the story. Turns out that like me, his employer first heard of the allegations when this reporter phoned him looking for background/comments. The university reportedly completed a background check on the coach before hiring him, however, the allegations ultimately upheld by the AYSO weren’t filed until after he left Arizona.

I’m still not sure I’ve heard all the “truth” to this story. The main thing I did learn is that the general public does NOT understand the difference between “allegations” and “charges.” Yes, the AYSO claims to have found sufficient reason to uphold the allegations, but no formal or criminal charges have been filed. The coach had an attorney at the AYSO hearing; however, the attorney wasn’t allowed to speak. Further, I understand there were conflicting documents by the accuser, who essentially accused him of “flirting.” And because the paper used the phrase “sexual misconduct,” he’s been labeled as everything from a “scum bag” to a “sex offender.”

Meanwhile, the coach continues to deny the accusations and according to the newspaper (and my sources as well) is planning to appeal his case.

This newspaper has played a powerful role. The reported accusations—regardless of whether or not they’re true—have caused a good coach to go down in flames. (BTW: The ban on coaching youth soccer is effective nationwide). If the allegations are ultimately found to be without merit and no charges are filed, one can’t help but wonder if he’ll ever be able to regain his reputation as a successful and valuable coach. Either way, will there be another front-page story?

I also wonder if there’s ANYONE who truly believes in our criminal justice system’s concept that the accused are INNOCENT until proven guilty. How about you?

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