Courage is Hard but Lacking It Is Even Harder

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Today, Erich was talking about a non-Indian friend of his who mentioned using the traditional Dakota ethics in solving a problem she had in her own life. I got to thinking about how the principles in the Tribal Leaders course are really universal. Let me give you an example very far from the reservation.

In my spare time, I volunteer as a judo coach. I was also, when I was much younger, the world judo champion, and the third of my four daughters competes internationally. In fact, she just won a bronze medal in the Olympics in Beijing.

One national judo organization, USA Judo, had a member of its board of directors,  who has had multiple athletes sign notarized affidavits, some of them depositions sworn under oath, saying that he had provided them drugs and had sex with them when they were  sixteen years old and younger.  I have personally read no less than SIX affidavits by athletes stating that this person gave them drugs and/or had sex with them.

Years later, as often happens in molestation cases, more people came forward. They were told "You had 180 days to file a complaint and you didn't do it."

Think about that a second... so if you are molested at age twelve or sixteen years old you have six months to come forward or the person gets off scot-free !

You can read a great deal more about this case in one of the many articles by the New York Times:

Claims of molestation resurface for judo official

Judo official resigns amid claims of molestation

and there have been literally hundreds of comments on it on the main Internet message board for judo,
The Judo Forum

After the first article in the New York Times came out, as reported by the Associated Press, the board member in question resigned.

At some point, you would think that the organization, USA Judo, would conduct an investigation. Seriously, imagine yourself Joe Board Member. First, you get several affidavits saying that your fellow board member has molested young athletes and provided them with drugs and alcohol. What do you do? What USA Judo did was require that the young athletes provide sworn depositions under oath and fly thousands of miles to testify in person.  Some of the athletes happened to actually be at the event were not even notified a hearing was being held. When they did not show up (in some cases, they were literally a hundred yards away), the charges were dismissed for "lack of evidence".

Years later, when more people came forward saying they had been molested or had knowledge of other players being molested they were told

"We have received no written documents."

When they received written documents, the board members then said,

"We have no complaints filed under oath in accordance with our procedures"... and so on.

Why does this happen? I believe it falls on what is one of the foremost values discussed in the Tribal Leaders training - courage .

As Jim Thompson, founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance says in his (rather long) podcast on ethics in youth sports, - "As hard as it is to stand up to your enemies, it is even harder to stand up to your friends."

Even after Fletcher Thornton resigned from the Board of Directors after articles appeared in HUNDREDS of publications about the many allegations of drugging and sexually molesting athletes, his fellow board members and the Executive Director of the organization continued to hide behind technicalities.


My belief is that they are afraid. They are afraid that they will be liable if they admit there was a cover-up years ago. They are afraid that after thirty years on the same board that Fletcher will have some "dirt" on them. Fletcher has bullied and blustered a lot of people, just like much of the problems Erich discusses in the tribal leaders course. People are intimidated.

Courage is hard. People are scared. They are scared they will lose their jobs, that unethical decisions they have made over the past few years will become public. Why not just cover it up? The victims were already harmed, nothing the board does will un-molest them - right?

The Cost of Cowardice

The U.S. has never won a medal in the Olympics in judo until this year, in China. Who won it? My daughter, Ronda, who was the person who posted on the Internet the latest revelations about Fletcher Thornton .

What about the rest of the sport? The week before the Olympic Trials, USA Judo was still calling around the country trying to find enough people to even compete. In the recent junior world trials, to select the team for the junior world championships, there were only THREE people competing in the 90 kg (198) pound division. They could not find more than three men in America under age 20 who even wanted to TRY to compete for the U.S. in the junior world championships. There was ONE woman in the heavyweight division.... and so on.

If your organization is unethical, you may not get sued. You may not be closed down like Enron and have your CEO imprisoned. What probably happens more often is that people vote with their feet, like happened to the judo organization. They don't organize protests or go to board meetings to demand your resignation. They simply go do something else - basketball, soccer, gardening.

Can this happen on the reservation, too? It's unlikely that people will go to another reservation, right? Unlikely, but not impossible. More likely, they decide to work with another organization. If the Head Start program is unethical, those motivated, capable parents you want to support you go work with the elementary school where they also have a child enrolled, and volunteer there instead. How many programs on the reservations have failed because  of lack of community support, lack of participation, lack of volunteers?

What happens to unethical programs? Sooner or later, support is withdrawn and they fail.

If you are lacking in the ethical values, people may not stand against you, but they certainly won't stand for you.
judo forum Camp - 2008 058.jpg

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