Talking To Your Athlete About Sexual Abuse In Sport

As more victims come forward with allegations of abuse against former U of Michigan Sports Dr. Robert Anderson—including the son of Bo Schembechler this week—Sport Psychologist Dr. Eddie O’ Connor said now is a good time to talk to your student athlete about sexual abuse.

“I think really, the best thing that you could do is when stories like this come out, is you make it a family discussion,” explained Dr. O’Connor. “Now as the adult, or as the parent, you have to be comfortable… you don’t want to use certain words or beat around the bush. If you can just be objective, speak in medical terms, be very straightforward; that’s going to help children from younger ages through teens through college.”

Dr. O’Connor said victims often feel as if it’s their fault, or that they did something wrong to lead to the abuse.

“People are trying to protect whatever they’re most highly valuing and invested in. And in college sports… a big motivator is the perception, the recruiting, the tremendous effect that it’s going to have an entire program, millions of dollars,” said Dr. O’Connor. “It’s got its own unique challenges, which is why in college sports, we want to take reports of this even more seriously.”

Dr. O’Connor said there are signs to look for if your student athlete is being abused.

“Anytime you see any difference, so if they’re becoming more withdrawn, if they’re more angry, irritable, if they start losing interest in friends, if they start isolating, if their grades start dropping, if there’s a change where you’re like, ‘Gosh, it doesn’t seem like my kid anymore,’ then something is going on,” he said.

He also urged those involved to pay attention to any abuse allegations.

“Every coach and parent that’s out there… if you hear that there is any abuse, you must put all of your stuff aside and protect that child, protect that team, protect that person who is being hurt,” he said. “And, look at it and explore it. Even if it costs you something, because you’re saving a life.”

Click here to contact Dr. Eddie O’Connor.