I have no idea if Meghann Shaughnessy has ever perceived herself as a victim. If I had to guess I would assume that she probably did not. And this itself is not unusual. Many of the girls and teenagers who end up in romantic relationships with their tennis coaches do not run crying victimhood to their parents or to authorities. On the contrary, many become the staunchest defenders of these men, sacrificing friends and family for what they perceive as true love.
Sadly, in many of these situations, it’s the student herself who ends up being punished for having become involved in a relationship with the coach. With Shaughnessy the punishment came in the form of being cut off from USTA funding. At the time, Lynne Rolley, then director of player development for the USTA, was reported as saying, “we have to align ourselves with the interests of the parents.” Being aligned with the parents translated into an unintentional punishment and isolation of the child.
The problem with punishing a victim is that it almost guarantees her entrapment in a predatory relationship. Furthermore, the experience of being punished may end up playing into teenage Romeo and Juliet fantasies, the two of them against the big bad world that doesn’t understand their love.
I am not privy to the inner workings of her situation so I am not intending to imply that is what happened for Shaughnessy. But in researching this entry, I could find no evidence that the coach was ever debarred from working as a coach. Indeed, he continued to function as her coach-lover until their break-up in 2005. Since late 2006 they have reunited as coach and student.
And to be fair to Font De Mora, he did guide Shaughnessy to a #4 spot in the singles rankings. But all but one of her six WTA titles has come from lower level Tier IV and V events. The sole exception was her win over Iva Majoli (remember her?) at a Tier III tourny in Quebec City in 2001. Shaughnessy has never really been a threat at Slam events, and has also enjoyed far more success as a doubles player. Her current claim to fame is that she plays for World Team Tennis, the place where journeymen go for a paycheck.
While Shaughnessy has in many ways become the poster child for coach-student romantic involvements, in truth there have been many other victims (my word, my perspective). Let’s look at a handful of the tawdry cases that have popped up during 2010 alone.
- February 2010: Robert Kurek, a 30-year-old Chicago tennis instructor is arrested and charged with the criminal sexual assault of his 16-year-old female student. Their first sexual encounter happened in a hotel, but after that he made do with his car parked in a CVS parking lot.
- February 2010: Nathan Ryan McLain, 30, of New Jersey, is charged with carrying on a 1.5 year sexual affair with an under-aged female student.
- May 2010: Christopher Rijken, 26, is arrested on charges that he took nude pictures of an underage student near an Oregon zoo.
- June 2010: Barry Fields, 44, of Wichita, pleads no contest and is sentenced to five years behind bars on three counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a 15-year-old female student.
- December 2010: Texan tennis coach, David Mercurio, is busted in an online sting operation after he is caught soliciting sexual favors from what he was led to believe was a 13-year-old girl.
I could go on. I won’t. Just do a Google search on “tennis coach sleeping with student” and you will find page after page of these sordid events. My question is: What are the folks in charge of tennis going to do about it? Of course I have some suggestions of my own.
- For a start, I believe that the business of training and licensing tennis coaches must be strictly controlled.
- No one should be allowed to work as a tennis coach without a professional license.
- As with any other professional license, the privilege of coaching tennis should be renewable, preferably on an annual basis.
- Furthermore, in order to both obtain and renew their licenses, coaches should be required to complete and pass a course in professional ethics.
- Coaches should not be allowed to make private arrangements in which tuition is suspended against future earnings. This only creates situations in which boundaries can be crossed.
- Coaches should be required to define a sphere of responsibility not just to the student but to her parents as well.
- Coaches who violate these conditions and engage in inappropriate sexual contact with an under-aged student should forever be required to wear a GPS tracking device, lose their license to coach anyone under 18, and become registered publicly as sexual offenders.
- And above all, students must never ever be isolated and punished for any kind of romantic involvement with a coach.