An Unwanted Story

by Rich on January 29, 2018

This wasn’t the column I wanted to write today. I had a nice little list going of possible topics: college basketball, attending sporting events with your kids, what it’s like to see your son grow from little league soccer to an adult, the return of the XFL. All of those, and many more, were possibilities. And I may regret not choosing one of them. But sometimes, as a writer, the story chooses you, and not the other way around.

I try to be lighthearted. That’s my nature. Serious issues are difficult to tackle and frankly, I look to sports to give me a break from those most harsh. But again, there are times when I really feel as if I have no choice. So forgive me.

This past week has been painful. The story of a doctor abusing children in his care, and what appears to be glaring systemic failures by adults and organizations to do anything about it, has left me feeling sick. Physically. If you don’t know what I am referring to, I will leave you to your own devices to learn about Larry Nassar and the horrific torture he perpetrated against the young gymnasts he was charged with treating. Suffice to say it is an all too real horror story. And sadly, one that feels all too familiar. For what now appears to be the better part of two decades, this sick monster preyed on those most vulnerable. How did this happen?

I have had philosophical discussions with friends in the past about evil and sickness. And while we could waste time and energy trying to decide if Larry Nassar was evil or sick (or both), that really isn’t the most crucial discussion we need to be having right now. Nassar is locked up for the rest of his life. We can study and try to figure out how, as a society, we can lessen and hopefully eliminate the Nassars of this world. That is a worthwhile endeavor.  But right now, there is a more pressing matter: those who allowed it to happen and how to hold them accountable.

Children don’t know. They may have a gut feeling that something is wrong, but they don’t have the cognitive or experiential capacity to grasp what’s happening or how to handle it when abuse of this nature occurs. And often, when it is something sexual in nature, they are ashamed…somehow feeling, deep down, they they are, if not wholly to blame, at least complicit. It is a shame that predators know how to use and manipulate.

Adults have the capacity. And from what I’m hearing from people within the gymnastics community, there were plenty of them that knew, or had serious suspicions about Nassar. One coach I spoke with said that in his one interaction with Nassar, it became clear that teams and organizations used him to get injured athletes cleared to compete, whether they were healthy or not. That alone should be enough to send a man away.

But it appears many also knew about the other, much darker side. And because gymnastics has become big money, it was easy to look the other way. And those people should be held accountable. It was their job to provide safe sport for these young athletes. They failed and must pay the price.

If it sounds like I am speaking with too much authority about sexual abuse, then I would argue you don’t know enough about the subject. And maybe that’s why I am compelled to write this.

Because this is not the column I wanted to write today.

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