Imagine the situation. A parent comes to the board with stunning news. A coach with years of unblemished service to the organization is exchanging text messages with her pre-teen daughter, a player on his team. Though the messages aren’t overt, the mother is still concerned that something isn’t quite right. She wants the board to look into it. She wants the texting to stop. How do you proceed? Suppose the coach tells you he is only answering texts about what time practice is or sport related issues the player raises. Mom thinks it goes beyond that, but the coach offers to show you his phone with only team-related texts on it. The Commissioner of Girls mentions that her daughter played for this coach and she never saw anything like that happen and never heard any other parents complain. What should you do? More to the point, should you be the person doing anything to investigate the situation?
In California this week, an accomplished violinist who worked as a teacher for a small, nonprofit youth orchestra based in Santa Monica plead no contest to criminal charges in a molestation case involving two young girls. According to the Santa Monica Patch, (read story here) a local paper, fellow teachers and parents of his students lined up in support of him at his plea hearing:
Dozens of affidavits testifying to Hallmark’s character were submitted to the court by his colleagues, mentors and students’ parents, describing him as not only talented, but also as proper and professional.
“The Julian Hallmark I know is a gifted teacher and a good and ethical man,” wrote cello instructor Margaret Edmondson. “Our students and our staff were lucky to have the opportunity to work with him and were deeply saddened when he left.”
Edmondson said she would trust Hallmark “without reservations to work with students of all ages.”
This “good and ethical man” took a plea deal on charges that he exposed himself to two pre-teen girls, instructing one of them to touch his genitals. Personal relationships and past experiences can cloud the objectivity needed to investigate complaints, particularly when the complaints involve conduct outside of practices and games, or deal more in suspicion than concrete fact. Would those people who lined up to support the violin teacher have conducted a thorough investigation if a person came to them with simple suspicions?
Placek Consulting offers investigative services specifically to assure that objectivity is present in the investigation. We ask the hard and uncomfortable questions. We bring a fresh eye to a situation that may be unfamiliar or just uncomfortable to your board of directors. You receive a confidential and unbiased fact-finding report. Upon request, we can also develop proposed courses of action for the board’s consideration. Uninvestigated complaints can be extremely damaging to a sports club if improper conduct occurs later. Make sure that you have a plan to deal with complaints and reports; then follow through!