While SI has printed many groundbreaking stories in recent years—on topics ranging from the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes' neglecting their out-of-wedlock children—none to my mind has been more important than our investigation of how child molesters infiltrate youth sports leagues (Every Parent's Nightmare, Sept. 13, 1999). By showing how child molesters use fields of play and gyms as feeding grounds and how parents can be deceived into placing their trust in the wrong person, we hoped to encourage people everywhere to work harder to minimize the risks posed to children.
In the last several weeks we have received hundreds of letters from readers praising the story. Many of those letters were from parents, teachers, youth organizations and law enforcement agencies writing to thank us for having taken on this tough subject and to let us know what they were doing to better protect kids. In his letter Bill Lockyer, the attorney general of California, said, "[ SI's] article draws important attention to the fact that many sexual predators contact young people by becoming involved in youth sports, and...dramatically demonstrates the importance for parents to know who has access to their children." Lockyer went on to note that his office is educating parents on how to use California's Megan's Law CD-ROM sex-offender registry and making them aware of a phone number to call to find out if a coach is a convicted sex offender. We applaud the attorney general's efforts and commend them to his colleagues in other states.
We also wish to commend all the children who confronted their abusers and brought them to justice. The courage of these youngsters, surpassed only by their concern for others, is truly inspirational. They are heroes and should be treated as such.
Regrettably, one letter, from several players and two assistant coaches on a California Little League team, said that the publication of their team photo in conjunction with the story created the impression that they were either victims of or participants in the actions of their head coach, Norman Watson, who two years ago was convicted on 39 counts of lewd acts with children that occurred between 1990 and 1996. While neither the article nor the caption accompanying the picture said anything of the sort, and neither named any child who was victimized by Watson (SI withheld the names of all victims under 18 in the story), we sincerely regret any discomfort the players and coaches may have experienced. As the article said, "The overwhelming majority of coaches on America's youth sports fields are there for all the right reasons."
That goes for the kids as well, most of whom, thankfully, will never have to confront the Norman Watsons of this world.