Comments Plaques mark the accomplishments of the Parkview High School baseball team as they warm up before a baseball game in Lilburn, Ga. Mischaracterized as hazing and bullying, the violence is so normalized on some teams that it persists for years, as players attacked one season become aggressors the next. But AP found multiple cases where coaches knew and failed to intervene or, worse, tried to cover it up.
Advertisement The AP examined the issue of sexual violence in school sports as part of a larger look into the overall problem of student-on-student sex assaults. Analyzing state education records, supplemented by federal crime data, the AP uncovered about 17, official reports of such assaults in grades K over a recent four-year period. And that number is low, because such attacks are widely under-reported and not all states track them or classify them uniformly.
In the last five years alone, the AP found more than 70 sexual attacks across all types of sports in public schools — also just the tip of the iceberg, experts say. Though largely a high school phenomenon, some cases have been reported as early as middle school.
Boys, who made up the majority of aggressors and victims in teammate attacks, have suffered serious injury and trauma, records show. An Idaho football player was hospitalized in with rectal injuries after he was sodomized with a coat hanger. That same year, a North Carolina teen suffered rectal bruising when he was jabbed through his clothes with a broomstick.
Parents of a Vermont athlete blamed his suicide on distress a year after teammates sodomized him with a broom. It also shapes how coaches and schools respond, and can influence whether off-campus authorities hold anyone accountable. At the team hotel later, with coaches nowhere in sight, five to eight upperclassmen barged into a room and ordered three freshmen out of hiding.
He got them back up, but the attackers grabbed and punched his testicles. The third managed to flee. To gain entry to a second room, one of the upperclassmen pretended to be a freshman and obtained a key from the front desk.
Inside, the aggressors blocked the door and ganged up on one boy. Only when he broke free and threatened to tell the coach did the assault stop.
However, experts say the last 10 to 15 years have seen an escalation into sexual violence. But players, perhaps influenced by sexualized pop culture, seem to be trying to one-up what was done to them, experts say.
Although many of the cases AP identified included anal penetration, grabbing crotches or grinding genitals into teammates, those who often first learn of incidents — coaches, school officials — routinely characterize them as hazing, bullying or initiations. The Georgia Department of Education told AP the district was wrong and would need to correct its filing.
Georgia school administrators were not alone in their toned-down language. Coaches serve as parental figures in many schools and communities, especially where sports are a source of civic pride. They are entrusted with the care of players at night, on weekends and during out-of-town trips. Some coaches became aware of misbehavior but treated it as a team disciplinary matter. Others failed to do anything. The district told AP the allegations were reported to authorities, but police said they were not notified.
The law enforcement report shows that a freshman confided to a coach that upperclassmen had sexually assaulted him and others with a pool cue in a cabin during an out-of-town tournament trip. Despite that warning, the upperclassmen continued unchecked.
Two went on to pin another boy face down on a bed as a third thrust a pool cue into his rectum, shredding two layers of clothing and breaking off the tip inside him. The coaches, who were elsewhere in the cabin, heard him scream and drove him to a hospital after seeing him bleeding.
A nurse, not the coaches, contacted authorities. After his discharge from the hospital, the boy returned to the cabin, collapsed and had to be rushed into emergency surgery to repair a damaged bladder, colon and rectal wall. The head coach instructed players at some point to keep quiet, investigators found.
No school official — including an athletic director, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent — immediately called other parents.
The coach and his wife, who was not charged, did not respond to messages. While the accused attackers were ultimately prosecuted, the adults ultimately escaped prosecution. And while coaches in the Tennessee, Florida, Texas and New Mexico cases lost their jobs, some returned to work elsewhere. For instance, the Texas basketball coach — from the Dallas suburb of Flower Mound — is now at a private school.
Someone alerted authorities, and Leechburg police soon said they had unraveled additional assaults dating back 10 years. He decided to leave the case open should a witness or other victim come forward. Lack of serious consequences can raise doubts about allegations that already have been mislabeled by schools or coaches, said Susan Lipkins, a New York psychologist and author who specializes in sports attacks. And that can lead to backlash against victims, she noted, with communities uniting behind coaches or accused players.
The parents of one of the targeted Leechburg boys said his family is now afraid to dine out in public because of blowback. Meanwhile, Leechburg Coach Damian Davies eventually lost his position, but many fans, parents and former players rallied in his support.
But more often, Lipkins said, older players use sexual violence to exert dominance over newer or smaller boys vying for the roster. Athletes who are sexually assaulted feel particularly pressured to stay silent, experts say. He went on to play college basketball, but his mother still worries about him.