Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Coaches, players, and the problem of sex

I teach an ethics class in psychology. I always start off by saying that every student of psychology knows right from wrong and that if you ask a graduate student if he or she could ever imagine sleeping with a patient, the answer would be a resounding “No”. And yet check any psychology licensing board listing of reprimands and censures and you will see a running list of therapists whose licenses got compromised by their inability to keep their penises out of their patients’ vaginas or other orifices. And of course vice versa – though with less frequency (with women as the perpetrators).

So clearly the problem of intelligent adults crossing the line and engaging in sexual activity with patients or tennis students is far more complicated than we may be willing to acknowledge. When I was a teenager, I remember watching the growing relationship between my then tennis coach and one of the students in our group. We had all assumed he was gay so we had to first get over the shock of discovering his apparent heterosexuality. And then there was the additional shock of watching what seemed then to be clearly mutual feelings develop between this 35-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl.

I remember (I will never forget) that he would leave us doing some kind of drill – this was in the summer when one could play hours and hours of tennis – and the two of them would leave in his car, always with some excuse of going to purchase balls or water. Of course they invariably returned with neither.

I remember that the girl was pretty in a boyish kind of way. In hindsight I think that we were right about his sexuality and that her androgyny probably had as much to do with his attraction, as her parents’ conflictual divorce had to do with hers. It all came out when enough of us went home and whispered our observations to our siblings who then told our parents.

It turned out that the coach and the student would drive up to an isolated hill beyond a residential area and spend time in his car doing who knows what. I never found out the specifics of what they actually did together but I’d like to believe that the situation was caught early enough that the physical aspect of their relationship may not have advanced too far. But the emotional damage would have been extensive regardless.

I go back to this event whenever I read about yet another tennis coach getting busted for messing with yet another female student. I say female not because male victims do not exist but because they are less likely to make outcries. And when a male victim has the courage to make an outcry – like the rapper Raz-B who has opened up about his reported sexual abuse at the hands of a manager – he then has to deal with the likes of that mega-douche and girlfriend-beater, Chris Brown, who then uses the information to attack the victim for “getting butplugged”. No wonder male victims are more likely to remain silent. Who wants to be blamed and publicly humiliated for their own victimization?

Clearly this entry was inspired by my reading about yet another tennis coach who has been accused of crossing the sexual boundary with his student. According to a newspaper report, “Carlos Luis Ortega, 45, a former Spanish teacher and tennis coach at the private college preparatory boarding school, pleaded guilty in Montgomery County Court on Monday to charges of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault in connection with incidents that occurred between January and February of 2010.” The girl, who was under 18 at the time, told a friend that Ortega had made sexual advances towards her and had sent her emails expressing his sexual fantasies. The friend told a faculty member and Ortega was fired.

This story is as old as the sport and as complicated as any other issue involving human relationships. No doubt Ortega likely knew what the right thing was and that what he was embarking on was possibly wrong. In fact one of his emails to the teenager seems to indicate this: “I find myself in a situation that I have not been before. I don’t know how I got there, but it is as if I am too involved and I can’t help myself fantasizing about you…”

The right thing is that adult coaches should never cross the line and seduce their under-aged students. I don’t know if Ortega has daughters and if any of them are under 18, but I can imagine that if his say 17 year-old-daughter were to tell him that she was messing with a 45-year-old married man with two children, he would likely be appalled. So the ability to cross these sexual boundaries clearly requires a tremendous capacity for self-deception, and an even greater well-spring of denial from which the perpetrator can continue to draw. (To be continued)

(Part 1 of 3)


(In photo, Samantha Geimer, Roman Polanski’s victim when she was 13 years old.)

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mr. Ortega does, in fact, have a daughter. Although there can NEVER be an excyse for crossing the professional line, particularly with a minor, having followed this story in the press since it broke, I'm troubled by the "predatory victim" aspect to it. Since I don't know the student, I'll try not to malign her here, but her classmates and some brave staff at their school seem to have taken a dim view of her historical antics with boys and men. Any woman who denies the possibility of inappropriate pursuit and advances by the girl is simply in denial - it happens all the time. We just hope that their targets are wise enough and strong enough to resist temptation.

tennischick said...

Thanks for your comment. I have not followed this situation since writing about it so I take your word for it. I do agree that some victims are predatory and seductive in their behavior. Which teenage girl with an underdeveloped cortex hasn't found herself seeking sexual validation in the wrong places? But it is up to adults to remember that they are adults and resist all forms of temptation. Because the truth is that most under-aged Lolitas grow up to feel relief that their attempts at seduction were rebuffed.

Anonymous said...

Well played, tennis chick. I agree 150% with everything you have said in all three parts of this blog. As a former player and coach myself, I see how normalized these relationships are in tennis. USTA, WTA, and ITF need to have stricter rules in place about these types of coaches. It's not an individual problem, it's the tennis community's problem.

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