HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel recently featured a story about the horrific sexual abuse scandal that has shaken British football. This truly disturbing story first broke in the fall of 2016 and accounts of sexual abuse have been pouring in from former British football players since then. If you are unfamiliar with the scandal, the issue is that for decades young boys playing British football have been victimized by pedophile coaches. This scandal that now involves 500 former British football players with similar accusations and 250 pedophile coaches may be the biggest scandal in British sports.
The stories that former players shared in the Real Sports piece reveal the absolutely disgusting behavior of their coaches. Yet, even worse is the long-lasting impact that the sexual abuse has had on these individuals. These men report being targeted because of their vulnerability due to their dependence on their coach’s support to succeed in the sport. One man, who was raped hundreds of times by his coach, was afraid to come forward because his coach would drop him from the team, wouldn’t play him for long periods of time and threatened physical violence. Some players went on to achieve their dream of becoming a professional British football player, but on the inside their lives were ruined. They reported dealing with depression, alcohol abuse, being institutionalized and attempting suicide.
Unfortunately, as detailed in the Real Sports story, a team executive brought this abuse to the attention of the team and the British football governing body, The Football Association (FA), in the early 2000s, yet no investigation was made and no other action was taken by either organization. Since the scandal became public in 2016, the FA has made promises to make changes and has suspended some of the coaches facing allegations, but still has much to do. Former players hope football clubs will hold themselves accountable for their role in this scandal.
This story is incredibly disturbing, and sadly, as we know, is not unique to British football. It can happen anywhere that men gather with young boys, such as the Catholic Church, AAU, or YMCA. What once again is proven is that our leaders, whether in sport or other areas of our society, must be vigilant and act with integrity, especially when they are informed of scandals such as this. We can all have an impact in preventing sexual abuse, by paying attention to what is occurring around us, being aware of resources that can help those in need and most importantly speaking up relentlessly when we hear of or see wrongdoing.