While it seems clear that the perpetrators in these situations seem to have the ability to lie to themselves and remain in denial, what to make of the behavior of the victims? Because it is clear that in many of these situations, the victim does not make an immediate outcry. In fact, some victims take these horrific experiences to the grave, living lives that are forever scarred by having endured the overwhelming experience of an adult person’s expressions of their sexual desire.
Yet other victims seem not to interpret the situation as one of victimization at all. They convince themselves that they have fallen in love, and may remain for years in a psychologically unhealthy relationship with their coach-lovers. At least this is the view that many have of WTA player Meghann Shaughnessy.
But before getting to Shaughnessy, let me finish the account of another 15-year-old girl whom I personally witnessed getting drawn into the coils of a relationship with a serpentine predator. I don’t know what became of that 15-year-old girl from my tennis group. Her parents packed up and moved quickly, their shame becoming a more unifying force than possibly either had expected. The coach also never faced legal charges but he was fired by the country club where we trained. He continued teaching at the public courts and he married an adult woman mere months later. I never took another lesson from him.
Looking back I believe that at the time the girl was vulnerable to his attentions because her parents had forgotten that they once loved each other and spent all of their energies focused on doing each other the most harm possible. This could have easily created a situation in which the girl could misconstrue the experience of loving and being loved by a trusted male coach. But these are all guesses. I was a child myself at the time and the unspoken message to us all was that the incident was not to be spoken of ever again.
But ever since then I’ve wondered how other parents handle the decision to send their children to sleep-away camps and other experiences in which you have to trust that adults will fulfill their professional obligation to take care of your child without crossing any kind of inappropriate boundaries. I myself have sent my daughter to sleep-away camp. In fact just this week we were both trying to remember the name of one camp that did not know what to make of her hair and sent her home after two weeks with a pile of knots at the top of her head. But she had had a great time and was otherwise well-cared for.
But what about parents like Bill and Joy Shaughnessy who sent their then 14-year-old daughter Meghann to train with then 25-year-old Rafael Font de Mora who ran a reputable tennis academy in Phoenix, Arizona? At the time, Meghann’s parents lived in Virginia Beach, a distance of almost 2,400 miles. I am not criticizing these parents for their decision. Their daughter must very much have wanted this training experience, and they must very much have trusted Font De Mora as a professional.
And to be fair, Font De Mora remains well-respected as a tennis coach. Up until 2006, he was working with Anna-Lena Grönefeld and guided her through an impressive breakthrough in 2005. But this not about Font De Mora the coach, but about the intensity of the dynamic between coach and student, and the question of when is it ever appropriate to cross the line into sexual involvement.
According to a Sports Illustrated article dated September 2001 (Passion Plays), Font de Mora became so impressed with Shaughnessy's potential that he offered her parents free tuition in exchange for a cut of her future earnings as a pro. A year after she started training with him, Meghann reportedly quit school and moved into Font de Mora's house. This caused a frisson of scandal in the tennis world and rumors soon swirled that the relationship was inappropriate. Against parental wishes, Shaughnessy refused to leave Font De Mora’s home; she become estranged from her parents.
Shaughnessy and Font De Mora later disclosed that they had become romantically involved. They both maintained that the romantic relationship did not start until she had turned 18. But does that make a difference? Because surely neither would expect anyone to believe that feelings may not have been nurtured some time before? And how does an adult male, holding the power advantage in this kind of situation, not check himself and decide to do what is in the student’s best interests? Or do perpetrators have the ability to delude themselves that they are never acting out of blatant self-regard and utter selfishness?
(Part 2 of 3)