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Writing an investigative story: sexual predators, teens

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by TopOfTheCircle, Dec 3, 2008.

  1. Hi, everyone.

    It's my 23rd year in journalism, both print and on line, and I'm about to touch a third rail.

    Earlier this year, a male coach was convicted of engaging in sexual acts with underage girls he coached, and possessing hundreds of images of underage girls in various states of undress on his computer and cell phone.

    I have observed the convicted for more than a decade and a half and have first-hand knowledge of his whereabouts through my notes, old stories (some of which I have written, some written by colleagues), and observations.

    I have also gained access to trial information in Federal court (not the transcript, yet).

    Here's the thing. I have no intention of identifying victims mentioned in the trial nor have I any intention of identifying potential victims from the past. This coach often hired himself out as a private athletics tutor, even to the point where he acted as a de facto assistant coach for the teams on which they played.

    The guy almost never held a job for more than one year, would sometimes refer to himself by his initials instead of his first name, and engaged in frequent travel across three states, almost as if he was trying to remain one step in front of the law.

    I don't want to name names because the athletic endeavor in which he and his players engaged in is a very tight-knit one, where if you know somebody in the sport, you also know that s/he knew someone else you knew in the sport, too.

    I do, however, want to shine a light on the national governing body of the sport, who not only hired this future sexual predator as an athlete for the senior national team for men, but would, nine years later, hire this same person as a coach of the senior national team for women.

    I also want to shine a light on some very lax credentialing for high school teachers/coaches. He held a teaching license in one state, so he was able to gain a substitute coaching license in another state. And even after a complaint was filed against him for inappropriate touching of a female student, he was able to become a volunteer sports coach in a neighboring town with a simple fingerprint check.

    Needless to say, this is going to be a long, mind-numbing narrative which is likely to be upstaged by a Nancy Grace-type figure shouting, "HE DID IT!!!!"

    What I want to do is try to expose a behavioral pattern, one which could have been stopped before a rash of sexual encounters in a very short period of time leading to his arrest.

    Am I going about this story the right way?
  2. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Well, you say the guy was convicted. So if this is going to be a newspaper/online story, you really need to focus it -- especially if this story is for a paper or online.

    If you are going to try to establish the behavior pattern, that's admirable, but I think it should be written as a warning so that it's not a dry recital of his whereabouts-- he coached here two months and went there, etc.

    In fact, I would run a list of all his coaching stops/jobs and what kind of checks they required as a breakout and not bog down the story.

    But if you can show that he kept moving around, there was lax credentialing, he insisted on one-on-one lessons or overnight trips with no chaperones, etc., then I think you have a real good story.

    Of course you really need to hammer the national organization that would allow him to coach the teams and get them on the record. I think talking to a parent who believed the guy would be good, too.

    Seems like I have read something about this guy perhaps.

    Good luck.
  3. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    Read this:

  4. Thanks for the feedback. Turns out one of the experts quoted in the SI story is less than 20 minutes from my office.
  5. MacDaddy

    MacDaddy Active Member

    This is a topic that's ripe for great stories, and it sounds like you have an excellent example to use for your story. It's amazing how the system operates, and how people like this coach can stay ahead of the system very easily.

    Back in my teaching days I knew a guy who followed a pattern -- get hired at a school, eventually get involved with a student or students, got caught somehow, negotiated an agreement where he'd leave quietly in exchange for the district not saying anything about it. He's done this with at least four schools and is still teaching. Boggles the mind.

    This was a great series on the topic:

  6. This is an awesome series. I hope some of the experts quoted in the Seattle articles are still around.
  7. 93Devil

    93Devil Well-Known Member

    Many school districts only check people in their own state. For example, a check of Virginia would show if I had problems in my own state. It would not turn up any problems I had in Arizona.

    If I was in the national database (Megan's Law), then I could be found, but I think the district would have to do the looking.

    I know where I live uses fingerprints on teachers before they are hired, and I know they do a Virginia search. I think they do a national one as well.

    I would call a HR person for a school district who could give you some better answers if you like.

    AAU - very, very laxed and nothing to do with schools.
  8. AAU -- agreed.

    There are a number of parallel bodies to scholastic sport that are not regulated nearly as much as high schools are -- Legion baseball, club lacrosse, AAU basketball, YMCA swimming, etc. God knows the sleaze in summer basketball is just the tip of the iceberg!
  9. awriter

    awriter Active Member

    If you can find it, read Rachel Bachman's investigation of Howard Avery in the Oregonian a few years ago.
  10. MacDaddy

    MacDaddy Active Member

    And that's only if the problems have been reported; a lot of this stuff gets swept under the rug so people will just go away and become someone else's problem. It's mind-numbingly amazing how flawed the whole system is.
  11. True, MacDaddy. The Sports Illustrated cited in this thread cited 30 incidents in 18 months.

    Go to the muck-raking BadJocks, and you'll see 189 in 11 months!

    Make that 192.
  12. MacDaddy

    MacDaddy Active Member

    I neglected to mention it's flawed going the other way, too. We had a case recently where a coach/teacher was accused by a former player/student of raping her at a party. After he was away from his classroom and his team during the weeks-long investigation, during which there was tons of speculation and discussion about what had happened, the accuser admitted she made the whole thing up. Law enforcement decided against charging her with making a false report, so there are no repercussions at all for this career-changing lie.
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