May 27, 2013

Innocent Coach's Career Ruined by False Abuse Allegation: On Aug. 17, 2012, Todd Hoffner was the head football coach of Minnesota State Mankato, earning over six figures with a four-year contract signed a month earlier. Then two innocent videos of his young children after bath time were found by a school technician fixing his phone. ESPN the Magazine describes Hoffner's futile effort to save his career and reputation, even after criminal charges were dropped. "They wanted to cast me as the next Jerry Sandusky. You hear my name, you see my picture and you think, Sick f---. That's what I would think too," Hoffner said. "There's no coming back from that. I would have been better off if I'd shot somebody."

posted by rcade to football at 02:32 PM - 11 comments

This is actually my hometown school, although I didn't go there. I would say that the videos fall under the category of a "regrettable mistake", but not criminal. Had he been distributing the videos, coaching his kids to do what they were doing, abusing them in some other way, or doing something lewd with the videos, it would be a different story. It doesn't seem that was the case here; so while he would have been smart not to record such things on his phone, he's nowhere in the same area code as the Sandusky stuff.

I feel bad for Hoffner, because he did get hosed in this situation. The article does kind of gloss over the fact that his successor took the Mavericks to the national semifinals in his absence, though, and I suspect that had as much to do with Hoffner's lack of return to the sidelines as anything. I believe that if the Mavericks had had a mediocre season last year, Hoffner would have been put back in charge.

The fanbase seems to be behind Hoffner (at least the parts of it that I know of), and many are upset that he's not the coach, despite how well they did without him.

posted by TheQatarian at 03:17 PM on May 27

I live in Mankato and get that same feeling, TheQatarian. I think most people recognize that a) child abuse bad but b) this was not a case a child abuse. After the facts came out, pretty all the local newspaper news has been pro-Hoffner saying that he's getting a raw deal, but MSU obviously doesn't want another Sandusky so they took the easy route and fired him.

posted by jmd82 at 04:46 PM on May 27

Society is very sensitive towards anything that appears remotely close to child abuse.

When my child was 4 I had a local civil servant confiscate the video camera I was using to record a first solo swimming lesson at the local public pool. At first I was shocked but then realized other children were also swimming at the time and could have been captured on the device - a certain "aaah, I get it" moment.

What I don't understand with Hoffner's story is why a parent would take naked videos or photos of children aged 4, 8 and 9. Although they are his children it still seems very inappropriate.

posted by cixelsyd at 05:29 PM on May 27

That is the definition of begging the question: why is it "inappropriate" to take pictures and videos of your own kids, being kids?

Oh right- because the second Victorian era has arisen in America, and we're all running scared with false piousness and overblown moral hand-wringing.

posted by hincandenza at 05:56 PM on May 27

There's nothing in this situation remotely close to child abuse. The judge said the videos are children being playful.

It does not help the cause of stopping child sex abuse to punish innocent people who've done nothing wrong. If anything, it makes it more difficult, because people may be less willing to report something to police if they don't trust them to differentiate between a crime and an innocent situation.

What I don't get is how the university could fire Hoffner after the charges were dismissed. Giving him the job back right away might be problematic, but giving him a role in the football program should've been possible.

Instead, by firing him it contributes to the stigma he'll face, because other potential employers will fear the school didn't believe in his innocence.

posted by rcade at 07:02 PM on May 27

to take pictures and videos of your own kids, being kids?

Naked? And then not care about who else has access to those pictures?

Agree there's nothing that points to child abuse here, but the guy needs to take some responsibility for the situation he is in. The technician didn't want to see the pictures, didn't want to have to report the incident. And what if the school simply ignores the entire incident and behaviour surfaces years later - not like that hasn't happened before.

I feel for the guy, but he needs to shoulder some responsibility here.

posted by cixelsyd at 09:58 AM on May 28

What shocks me is that somehow our society has become so knee-jerk that we ascribe sexuality to naked kids. My son ran around the house naked all the time, it's what kids do. This dad thought it would be funny to record his kids acting like kids. The only way you can accuse him of poor judgment is to somehow assign some sort of sexuality to complete innocence. I'm not sure what anyone else's parental background is here, but I imagine that most parents wouldn't think twice about recording their kids tearing around the house in their birthday suits. It's an innocent, completely non-sexual act and it wouldn't occur to most parents to think it was anything else. I understand that there are predators out there that victimize children, but I refuse to allow those perverts to dictate what is and isn't an innocent act in my house.

posted by tahoemoj at 11:20 AM on May 28

I feel for the guy, but he needs to shoulder some responsibility here.

You're not talking about the school's responsibility to be fair to its employee. The coach made an extremely minor error in judgment -- leaving some innocent photos on his phone -- in the moment. The school fired him even though the charges had been dismissed after it had months to deliberate. That seems like a much more damnable misjudgment.

posted by rcade at 12:49 PM on May 28

This is not the first time I've heard of something like this. Some years ago a woman was charged with child pornography because a photo of her daughter naked in the bathtub was included with a roll of film (maybe you digital age kids won't remember what that is) she was having developed. The technician at the photo lab unilaterally found the picture objectionable and reported it to the police. I do not remember where this happened, nor when, but I do remember a large furor being raised over it. Nor can I remember what happened as far as disposition of the case either. In this day and age naked photos of kids, no matter whose, no matter the reason, are treated like a sackful of hand grenades in the security check-in line at the airport. Back in the day such things were worth a chuckle, but in this age of suspecting the motives of everyone it's best to make sure your kids have clothes on when the camera is out.

posted by Howard_T at 10:49 PM on May 28

As a youth sports coach, I attend training and licensing sessions where this type of thing is dealt with in deep detail by instructors from the governing statewide youth soccer association.

Their idea of what is and what isn't acceptable extends much farther than what I would have thought of on my own as someone trying to maintain propriety at all times.

After getting scolded for things like allowing kids and parents who want to car pool to print out their team's roster and stick it on the refrigerator so that total strangers who may come in the house (a pest control or phone company guy?) can see the names and contact info of 10 kids in plain view, I knew as soon as I found out the basic details of Hoffner's case that he was well within some governing administrator's concept of forbidden territory.

So I feel doubly bad for Hoffner in the knowledge that there is now this vast, razor sharp line on what is appropriate and that almost everyone needs mentoring and guidance as to how to stay on the correct side of it. I'm getting guidance that he apparently never got on this.

Nevertheless, I hope that some legal eagle is rushing to this guy's assistance as quickly as Dershowitz rushed to OJ's side, because (help me out on this, tahoe) there would seem to be the basis for a significant legal complaint here.

And I hope there's an opportunity for a fresh start for Hoffner somewhere in the universe of college football, a place where a fellow of Petrino's integrity is apparently forever going to be given a "next" chance (why bother counting the number when you get past four or five).

Drat Hoffner's luck for not being a cachet legal client or a proven offensive mastermind.

I reflect upon all this against the backdrop of the Duke men's lacrosse team's recent national championship, glory gained in the wake of scores of lives being wrecked on the rocky shoals of wrongful accusation.

posted by beaverboard at 08:59 AM on May 29

(help me out on this, tahoe) there would seem to be the basis for a significant legal complaint here.

I was thinking about that, and I'm not sure. The tort of wrongful termination is a bit of a pipe dream, and all the University has to say is that he violated some decency clause that I'm sure was in his contract in this post-Sandusky world. There doesn't seem to be any defamation going on, as nobody actually called him a pervert or a child pornographer. They just stated the "fact" of what was on his phone and released him for it. If the school deems it pornographic, then they have cause to let him go, even without actually labeling (and therefore libeling) him. On top of that, he is a public figure, so defamation is that muchg tougher to prove. The bottom line is that the school was the employer and dealt with its employee as it saw fit. The state dropped any charges, so there's no wrongful prosecution. It just sucks for him.

That being said, I have no doubt that one of my colleagues will approach Hoffner to file suit. And they may get the university to settle rather than pay legal fees to defend themselves.

posted by tahoemoj at 12:06 PM on May 29

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