Vanderbilt offensive line coach Herb Hand has spent over 20 years as a college assistant. He's one of the most respected men in his profession. He's also proven to be one of the more intriguing characters in football. (Earlier this year, Spencer Hall wrote this excellent story about Hand for SB Nation.) From following Hand on Twitter I noticed his involvement with a special cause in Tennessee, an organization called Our Kids that deals with child sexual abuse. This week, I sat down with Hand to find out more about how he got involved with Our Kids; how widespread the issue of child sexual abuse actually is and how it's impacted him.
Q: How did you get connected with Our Kids?
Hand: Initially, this past spring, Our Kids had a big fundraiser called, Soup Sunday. It's been going on for like 20-plus years. They were looking for celebrity judges for the soup contest. They asked for somebody from Vanderbilt football and our ops guy knows I'm a Foodie. He thought I'd be a good judge. And that's right up my alley. Well, prior to the event, I wanted to find out what this organization was really about.
I went to their office and toured their facilities. I met the people that worked there. I was just blown away by what they do and how they go about doing it. Their attitude and mentality, dealing with circumstances that are really unfathomable when you think about what they do on a day-to-day basis? How do you reconcile that?
What really stuck with me is, these people are a true light in a hopeless situation for these children. They are a light for them. They have an opportunity to take someone who feels like they are in a powerless situation and flip the script for them and to give that child power.
When I walked out of that tour, it really stuck with me how these women are such difference-makers for kids, and I wanted to jump in with both feet and get involved. It started with the Soup Sunday deal and then after our spring game and before I went on the road recruiting, I stopped by their offices just to see how they were doing. I was talking to one of the administrators there. She was telling about this toy room they have there, where any child that walks into the building, whether they are there for an examination or are a sibling of someone there, goes into this toy room. They let them pick out a brand new toy. She was telling me that the toy levels were getting low.
We just had our spring game and had I have known that, we could've done a toy drive--and we are gonna do that in the future. Well, a buddy of mine from college is a vice president of Blip toys in Minnesota, Rick Mershon. He'd played linebacker at Hamilton College. I called him. He said we'll send a shipment down there and he told me he had connections in the you industry. He explained that there was a toy company here in Nashville called Big Time Toys and he put me in touch with Shane Brooks there. Shane immediately wanted to get involved. I went to his warehouse and they just started loading toys into the back of my truck. I went there and re-stocked their facility and Shane told me that (Our Kids) were going to be set from now on. That was pretty cool. After that, the Our Kids executive director, Sue Fort White, contacted me to see if I wanted to be on the Board of the Directors. I was honored that she would ask. I talked it over with my wife and with James, and I'll begin in January.
Q: We sometimes hear stories about it, but from what you've learned, how much more widespread are the problems and the issues with child sexual abuse than you thought?
Hand: That was the other thing that really stuck out to me. Statistically, one in four girls and one in six boys will be affected by sexual abuse during their childhood. That was just like a gut punch when you think about that.
Our Kids services a 46-county area in Middle Tennessee. They have satellite clinics in different small towns where there's people who may be can't get to Nashville but they can still be taken care of. Between the Nashville site and those four other satellite clinics they are seeing in the range of 900 kids a year on average. That's just jaw-dropping to me. [In 98 percent of those cases, Sue Fort White said the accused perpetrator is someone the child or that child's family knows or trusts and even loves.]
And, of those kids, a very high percentage of them (68 percent) are under the age of seven. That is also a gut punch to me. So it's not just those 900 kids that are being cared for here a year, but then you think about how many more are not (and are afraid to come forward or even as adults are afraid or too ashamed to come forward)? Think of the stats about one in four girls or one in six boys. That is something that needs to change. We can't have that.
In the world we live in now, we can get news so fast, whether it's through social media or in general to the point where if something is on the front burner, it's on the front burner for a very short time and then it gets put on the back burner until it ends up on the front burner again. Well, this is something that should always be on the front burner. Child abuse in any way, shape or form needs to be on the front burner. That's psychological abuse, physical abuse and of course, sexual abuse. Any type of child abuse needs to be on the front burner at all times, and it's gonna be my push personally to keep this on the front burner at all times.
Q: Have you ever known someone who has had to deal with child sexual abuse?
I think people would probably be surprised at the number of their acquaintances or friends or relatives that have been affected by child sexual abuse. And, in a lot of ways because of how taboo it is to discuss, it's the dirty little secret that people have. That's the power of the whole dynamic of sexual abuse. It has that power over people.
Q: How has being involved in this changed the way you look at things?
Hand: It hasn't necessarily changed the way I look at things but as a father and having three kids and also being a coach and knowing that even in the spring, this was on the heels of everything happened with Jerry Sandusky. And he wasn't the only coach who has used his position to gain access to kids. As a coach, that in itself was a gut-punch to our profession because "Coach" to me is such a trusted word. It's an honor to be called "Coach."
Our profession is such a hallowed profession in terms of the trust factor and the influence factor. You have that access and such opportunity to make a difference in the lives of a lot of kids. And so when you hear the statistics and think about it also from a father's standpoint, and as a coach, I feel obligated as a coach to push this issue.
Q: Have you spoken to other coaches about getting involved?
Hand: I haven't yet. I got more involved in the summer and then we got into the season, but this is something I'd like to get more people involved with, whether it's our association, the AFCA or something locally here in Middle Tennessee with some of the other coaches here in this area from an awareness standpoint. We need to keep this on the front burner.