Last week, the Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy protection. The motivation behind this filing is an attempt to reset in the face of mounting legal costs related to an increasing number of historic sexual abuse allegations. The BSA tried many different things, including opening the Scouts rolls to girls—itself a controversial decision—in an attempt to increase funding and offset catastrophic financial losses, but these attempts proved unsuccessful. The ensuing damage to the scouting organization’s reputation has been immense.
The vaunted Scout’s Oath and Scout’s Law have been seen as ethical high standards by generations of American youth who grew up to be leaders in nearly every industry. Scouts were renowned for “being brave, honest, clean, cheerful, thrifty and reverent.” Scouts have been CEOs, artists, astronauts and presidents. Kennedy and Ford were Boy Scouts. Bush and Clinton were Cub Scouts. Neil Armstrong was an Eagle Scout. Scouting was considered a crucial, fun and strenuous rite of passage that taught young men how to grow into good men. Recent allegations have shifted public opinion of the Scouts for many. Allegations of abuse, and of the failure of the BSA to adequately protect boys or punish offenders, led to an ongoing scandal for which the BSA has yet to find an answer.
The biggest question isn’t one of reputation. It’s how to cover the cost of the victims’ compensation fund, which is expected to eclipse $1 billion soon. BSA simply doesn’t have the liquid capital. The organization has property and that’s one of the considerations on the table. But how much could it sell? Would it be enough? These questions are of significant importance to Scouting families.
Even if the BSA manages to emerge from this scandal and finds a way to compensate victims for the crimes that happened under its supervision, there’s still the PR crisis to manage. The current narrative is problematic on several levels, and the BSA is working hard to reverse this, to keep current families and leaders on the team, sending out letters to Pack and Troop members, assuring them that BSA is “not going anywhere” and will fulfill its obligations, both to victims and to the current membership.
Parallel to all of this is a fight—both in the courts and in the court of public opinion—to publicize the names of the Scouters alleged to have abused Scouts in their charge. The victims’ attorneys are calling for thousands of names to be revealed, arguing this step will “inform communities” and “make children safe.” There’s no answer from the BSA on this, and it could create yet another difficult legal hurdle and PR problem for the BSA. Local chapters are separate legal entities from the BSA, and these will be where many of the accused abusers will have volunteered and spent time with their alleged victims. Others argue that this separation is “only on paper” and that BSA still has predominant influence over local councils.
However that issue plays out, the fact is the BSA is now even deeper in this crisis than before, and it appears it’ll have to walk through, making good on its promises and its debts, if the scouting organization has any hope of getting out.