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Sat, Nov 24, 2012, 00:00

Compiled by PHILIP REID

Gavagan's cautionary tale for all times

The documentary is only a work in progress; but, on the evidence of his contribution to a conference in New York last week, Christopher Gavagan’s story – for he is the filmmaker with the guts and courage to delve into his own past – should make for a harrowing tale. It should also serve as a lesson, not just to other young sportsmen with their eyes on pursuing the dream of sporting excellence, but to many families and to society at large.

Gavagan’s story is an American one, but it could be from anywhere. Britain. Australia. Or here in Ireland.

The issue is worldwide. A wannabe ice hockey player in his teens, Gavagan – now aged 38 – was speaking to the MaleSurvivor 13th International Conference about young athletes who have been sexually assaulted or abused by their coaches.

The telling of his story and the making of the documentary seems particularly apt, given the high-profile trial and conviction of collegiate football coach Jerry Sandusky who was sentenced last month to 30 to 60 years in jail for child molestation crimes whilst an assistant at Penn State.

The Sandusky case was not a stand-alone affair in the USA: the boxer Sugar Ray Leonard wrote in his autobiography – The Big Fight – published last year that he was the victim of sexual abuse from an Olympic trainer and has since declared himself a “poster child” in encouraging other victims to report their abuse. Closer to home, journalist and author Justine McCarthy graphically outlined the history of sexual abuse in Irish swimming in her book, Deep Deceptions.

‘Poster men’

To that end, men like Gary O’Toole and Chalkie White – Irish Olympian swimmers who refused to remain silent – have become “poster men” in their own right for exposing what went on and become an inspiration to others.

In Gavagan’s case, his dream to excel as an ice hockey player led him – as a 13-year-old – to the door of a coach who had been recommended to him by a couple of female acquaintances. Gavagan told the New York Times that his thoughts of future glory were embodied in the trophy room of the coach’s house. There were pictures of hockey teams the man had coached and workout equipment which promised him the chance to get bigger and stronger.

“To a skinny 13-year-old, it was like winning the lottery,” recalled Gavagan, adding: “The entire grooming process was so subtle. It’s not like when I first went into his house that he tried to grope me.”

The step-by-step process involved a situation where he was first allowed to use swear words in the coach’s house, then to drink beer and then on to looking at Playboy magazine and ultimately on to harder pornography. It was six months before the coach laid an explicitly sexual hand on him, Gavagan said. It was four years before he escaped his abuser’s influence.

“At the time I had no idea of how it would impact my life, but the unhealthy lessons about relations, trust and the truth set a time bomb that would detonate my relationships for the next 10 years,” Gavagan told the conference.

Dangerous people

Christopher Anderson, the executive director of MaleSurvivor, said sexual abuse – non-consensual touching or sexual language – is devastating under any circumstances but that the lesson for parents should not be that sports are dangerous.

“It should be that there are sometimes dangerous people who gravitate towards sporting organisations and our safeguards aren’t good enough yet to adequately protect our children . . . parents need to be vigilant,” he said.

Gavagan’s documentary will include an interview with his own abuser and also relate the stories of a diverse group of boys from around the United States who weren’t protected by the system.

Gavagan decided to interview the perpetrator despite the fact the latter was never convicted due to the statute of limitations in New York.

On his Facebook page, Gavagan posted: “Those who have suffered sexual abuse as children have become tragic experts in a field that the rest of the world wants to pretend does not exist. Yet survivors can be society’s lifeguards. While millions of children splash about in the surf right now, there are sharks circling. Survivors bear the scars of these sharks. We are the ones who can say, ‘There. There is the predator that attacked me’.”

In producing and directing Coached into Silence, Gavagan hopes the documentary will shed light on the organisational, institutional and legal systems which conspired in attempting to silence the victims while protecting profits, reputations and, in some cases, the predators themselves.

It’s a story that crosses every international boundary and every international time line and hopefully will lead to a safer future for the next generation.

Lacey and Kildare take leaf out of Dublin's book

One of the problems which GAA county boards face is that many of their star names don’t contribute once their playing days are over. That problem has been addressed somewhat by the Dublin board who have used the underage development squads to induct former county players into management – highlighted by Dessie Farrell’s role with the county minors.

Kildare have followed that line of thinking with former All-Star Brian Lacey linking up with his former county team-mate Brian Murphy to take charge of the Lilywhites’ minors. Dublin should take it that imitation is the greatest form of flattery.

And given Lacey is from Tipperary, perhaps the Premier County should take it as something of a compliment too.

Garlett's case points to clubs' wariness of indigenous players

The national draft of young talent into the Australian Football League – aka Aussie Rules – on Thursday raised a number of eyebrows when it came to the number of “indigenous” players selected by the professional clubs.

Only three players of the 107 recruited in the draft fell into the category, perhaps indicating a wariness of the mainstream clubs to take on indigenous players.

The absence of Dayle Garlett (right) from the draft raised most eyebrows: the teenager was considered a top-10 pick by most experts in the run-up to the selection process but was overlooked after photos were posted on a social media site of him with a drink in his hand and smoking.

A few years ago, some 25 per cent of the draft featured players with indigenous backgrounds and this year’s low number of draft pick of aboriginal players comes just months after Adelaide recruiter Matt Rendell was sacked for warning AFL clubs were increasingly wary of recruiting indigenous players. Seems there might be some truth in his assertions.

Hankey may take action against social media posters

Two-times world champion Ted Hankey has had the last laugh on darts fans who took to social media forums to accuse him of being drunk during a recent Grand Slam of Darts match where he twice missed the board completely.

Unfortunately for Hankey, his comeback at his denigrators came about after a medical report showed he had suffered a mild stroke during his match with Dutchman Michael van Gerwen and further tests revealed he was suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.

The upshot is Hankey, known as “The Count”, will be out of action for up to two months and will miss the world championships.

Hankey’s management hasn’t ruled out taking legal action against those social media posters who alleged the player’s problems had to do with drink. “Some of the remarks made against Ted were very derogatory and massively defamatory of his character,” his manager David Stevenson told the Shropshire Star newspaper.

As for Hankey’s future? “He’s got to change his lifestyle completely. He’s never worried about diet and stuff like that. Like most of us in our 40s, he’s got a bit of a pot belly but that’s all . . . if he still wants to be a professional darts player, we are going to have to try to control it. We will have to manage it, make sure he eats properly and gets plenty of rest.”

Caseys come to the rescue of Rosapenna

Think of it as something of a rescue mission!

The acquisition of the indebted St Patrick’s golf links in Donegal by the Casey family has turned Rosapenna into one of the great seaside golfing terrains in the world, with only St Andrews – the home of golf – boasting more holes of links golf than the north-west facility.

Although some modernising is due to be done on the 36-holes of the old St Patrick’s links, which had fallen into the Nama property portfolio, its acquisition by the Caseys is a fillip for Donegal and Irish golf.

Rosapenna – which already featured the acclaimed Sandy Hills Links, the Old Tom Morris, the No. 3 Links, No. 4 Links and the Coastguard Nine – now boasts 81 holes of links and has come a long way since Old Tom was introduced to the region in 1891 to design the first holes.


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