The Irish Times: "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.

Philip Reid zeroing in on what Coached into Silence is all about,  in The Irish Times:

Mr. Gavagan goes to Albany

What follows is a transcript of my statement in support of the Child Victims Act to members of the New York State Assembly, press, advocates & survivors of childhood sexual abuse. “I’d like to say that I’m making this film from some pure journalistic curiosity.

As you know, that’s not the case.

I am making this film because at fourteen years old,  when all I wanted in the world was to be a better hockey player, I skated down the wrong block. Five blocks from my home in Brooklyn, a trap had been laid. This was a trap perfected by a man who by that point had coached a thousand young boys over twenty years. He made himself a master of manipulating both adults and children.

When I decided to move forward with this project, I sent this man, my abuser of 4 years a letter asking him to be involved in this documentary about “the men who made us what we are today.” He jumped at the opportunity, saying it would be the honor of his life.

I’d like to show you a few moments from these interviews now.

(I then played four minutes of interviews with my own abuser. Admitting and justifying sexual abuse as a “lesson”. Raising the concern that doing this interview could put him in jail. Laughing with relief when the issue of New York’s statute of limitations—age 23—is raised. And then this man walking away, fading back in to his neighborhood.)

When people see this man walking back into his neighborhood, they all ask the same question: “What neighborhood is this guy walking back into?”

Your neighborhood. That’s the answer to that question.

All of our neighborhoods.

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.”

Give the people who know, the chance to say what they know.

The statute of limitations have taken the whistles from the lifeguards. Victims are forced to watch; helpless, mute—as predators sink their teeth into the next victim, and the next victim. While we scream on the sand, child after child is snatched from the sunlight and dragged to the darkness below. Not every child will survive to see the surface again. None will emerge from this fully intact.

There is blood on somebody’s hands here…

The statute of limitations by it’s very existence in cases of child sex abuse—create more victims. Many lawmakers seem to cast their vote as if they believe a shark, once fed, will never eat again. The reality is that these predators will feed for a lifetime on our children. And the short statute of limitations in our state guarantees 30, 40, 50 more years of children—-our children—your children—-as prey. A generation of children that could so easily have been spared.

I have been forced to watch—helpless— as my own abuser, a coach with direct easy & access to a hundred children a year for decades, found his next victim, and his next victim. I reported him at twenty-four years old. So close…

In my case, the criminally short statute of limitations has created a video vigilante. In my darkest years, this story could have had other endings. I would have killed myself to end the pain. I would have very easily killed my abuser to end the threat to other children. To make the shame go away. I could have made the only person who knew my secret go away just like that. What are your options when your ability just to tell the truth has been taken away by law?

But I but I didn’t drive the three hours from New York City to impugn the good name of this esteemed body by implying that the majority don’t care about safety at all.

In fact the majority have voted to make the great state of New York a safe haven. Let it be known to molesters, pedophiles and child sex predators that this state has chosen to protect you. You are safe here. With each failure to pass the Child Victims Act we are saying to these criminals: Welcome to New York.

When we have to rely on other states such as Massachusetts to enforce our laws, to arrest & try our criminals what we are telling those who rape and  molest children is this: New York is the path of least resistance. Stay within our borders, and you are unprosecutable.

Passing the Child Victims Act can change that. A vote for the Cild Victims Act can put you on the right side of history. You can let the true experts, the survivors, have their day in court, to say what they know. You can give the lifeguards  back their whistles, you can play your part in looking an a pandemic, a shark-infested sea, and saying: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat”.

You must extend the statute of limitations by passing the Child Victims Act and giving the victims back their voice…otherwise I’m afraid that this legislative body will go down in history as an assembly of accomplices.”

Xs & Os

While we prepare for our next round of interviews, I just wanted to take a few moments to summarize what has brought us to this point.

As a concept, the project which would eventually become Coached into Silence began several years ago.  At the time I had naively envisioned it as an objectively journalistic, detached “issue film” exploring the sexual abuse of boys within the world of organized sports. When the subject matter is so under-discussed and the stakes so high, such a documentary could have still had value. Anything that raises awareness can aid prevention. Anything that lets those who have suffered these abuses know that they are not alone can provide a small measure of support.    

We began our research process in the Fall of 2009. The deeper we found ourselves buried in the thousands and thousands of cases, the more we had to face the following disturbing fact: No matter how many cases you would find—-90% of these abuses will never be “cases” at all. The fact that we can even read about a report of child sexual abuse already makes it a rare exception to the rule. As we delved farther into the reasons for that statistic, we began a series of interviews with many of the leading experts on the subject. Psychological & legal experts, those at the vanguard of prevention, support and advocacy…all of whom played a part in opening our eyes to facets of the issue that we had never known existed. 

We were determined to represent the full scope of this issue. These abuses occur in every sport, across all levels of sport, and so we will be including survivors who played in the smallest town little leagues to those who eventually made their name in the professional ranks. There are no boundaries or barriers that guarantee a child is protected from falling prey to someone in a position of power intent on exploiting their access to children. “At risk” urban public schools and leagues are short of all resources, including those which would provide safeguards for children, while elite preparatory academies have the money and influence to protect the facade of their “pristine” reputations. 

From the cracked asphalt of inner city leagues blighted by poverty and neglect, to the immaculately manicured fields of private bucolic Ivy League feeder schools.  Once you have scratched the surface, you have to go all the way. 

As our research continued, we began to reach out to those who had been directly affected by these crimes. Men and boys, their parents and loved ones. There was nothing to be gained for them personally by opening these wounds and speaking out. Their hope is that by opening their lives to us others may be helped, may even be spared the nightmares that they have endured. 

As these conversations continued, the original ‘detached’ vision of Coached into Silence began to fade as the project became more and more personal with each passing moment.  As I began to meet these courageous people, as I talked to them for hours, the emotional roller-coaster rumbled ahead. One moment appalled at the crimes themselves and then outraged at the injustices that too often followed. In the next moment, I would find myself completely awestruck by the courage of these survivors. 

Though the conversations were painful, I felt safe sandbagged behind my role as “filmmaker”. It wasn’t long before each crack in their voice began to bring about cracks in my own armor. I’d sit with the articles & notes from these pre-interviews, I’d discuss themat length with m’lady and lead researcher. I’d sit silently by myself, taking inventory of my emotional and physical state, becoming aware of the knot in my stomach and I would ask myself “What are you resisting?”

During the next phone conversation with a young man who had been the victim of a serial molesting coach who left at least a hundred wounded children in his wake, the knot in my stomach returned. Exactly what I had been resisting revealed itself once and for all. 

I felt like a fraud.

How dare I ask these people to reveal these stories, their darkest days, their darkest secrets,  when I had chosen not to include the story I know best of all?

From the moment I chose to include my story as the thread that will tie all of these disparate stories together Coached into Silence has taken on a life of it’s own. The first step in that direction was a doozie….

Mrs. Clark

I was unsure whether I should be here today or not, but of this I am absolutely certain: this woman should not be here for me to marvel at.

The courage that is on display should never have needed to be exhibited. I shouldn’t be able to pick her out from among the dozens of others who are milling about this hallway. Yet I recognize her instantly, even with my bad eyes.  I recognize her from that very picture in thenewspaper that you see above.

We have never met before this moment, yet she offers and accepts a hug from the stranger who is typing this to you right now. A hug that reminded me just how deceiving looks can be. The photograph from the newspaper, filtered through my own biases and sympathies, left me with the impression of a wounded bird, delicate. To be near her is to experience an altogether different energy.  You are in proximity to electrified high tension wire. Demonstrably unbreakable, for life has tried and failed.

That I should be here telling her that her strength is an inspiration to so many feels almost like trespassing, though this story has been quite public for nearly two years. Worst of all, I am here offering condolences for her loss. Her son. Hushed tones should not be needed to say his name, if someone—even a well-intentioned fool like me—dares to say it at all. Andrew.

Andrew should be here.

Bullshit. Andrew should be anywhere but here, in this crowded hallway of a generic municipal building, waiting for the bailiff to open those courtroom doors. Andrew should be somewhere else.

But Andrew is nowhere else.

He should be doing what 20 year old young men do. Everything or nothing at all. But he never saw 20. Or 19. His 18th year was too much to endure.

One man’s manipulations created Andrew Clark Jr.‘s hell. Calculated and incremental. One comment, one text message, one instant message at a time. One payment for one piece of information at a time. Perversion masquerading as ‘help’. ‘Advice’, one guy to another, corrupted and transformed into paying boys cold cash payments to fuel his fantasies.

I imagine this man, Coach Bart, walking the halls of St. Rose High School with a pocket full of sweaty five dollar bills. Peeling off one paper portrait of a mortified Abraham Lincoln at a time, peeling away the last shreds of his own decency, while pressuring young men to give him what he wanted.

This day, imagining this ‘man’ would be as close as I would get. This Coach, favorite son of Freehold, New Jersey, best man at the wedding of the Mayor himself. Bartholomew McInerny, who spent 13 years exploiting his access to children for his own sordid purposes. A bastardization of the word mentor. This man, on this day, could not be bothered to show up at his own sentencing, facing ten separate ten-year charges of child endangerment. With all mention of ‘Victim No. 13’, Andrew Clark, whitewashed from the proceedings, those charges do not come close to summarizing the damage done, yet on these minimal charges; Bart McInerney is both found guilty, and nowhere to be found.

Why should I waste my mental energy imagining this man ,who on this day wouldn’t make the 5 minute trip from his home to court? A man who would not show up today to face the facts, face the judge, face these families? To hear what can pass as earthly justice served?  My energy serves me better elsewhere.

Instead I imagine Andrew, based only on the pictures I have seen, the articles I have read, the descriptions I’ve heard, and I feel the loss all the more. Looking at Mrs. Clark, one is aware that the true measure of loss is unknowable by anyone but her and family. The loss that I feel is as a member of family of humanity. I know that we have been denied Andrew’s incredible light, and his limitless potential by the overwhelming darkness that Bart McInereny brought into his life. With Mrs. Clark sitting to my right on the front row bench she has occupied throughout the entire trial, I imagine that she has both of her sons with her. She gave birth to, nurtured, protected and loved two sons, to the greatest extent of human capability. One of her sons played for Coach Bart and now the number of her children that she will see grow to adulthood has been halved. I imagine Andrew Clark, sitting beside his mother and brother, and I shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t even know this name but I do, and now so do you.

His is a name I will never forget for as long as I live.

A history of silence.

Among the core stories in Coached into Silence is another case that hits close to home (five minutes from home, to be more precise.) Rather than my version of this decades long struggle, I encourage you to visit the website set up by the survivors of these abuses at Poly Prep and their supporters at

When the reputation that is being protected dates back to 1854, an institution can dig in so deeply on their denial that they may see it as reality. When headmaster after headmaster has clung to lies so tightly, for a generation, those lies can become their New Truth.

Yet no commitment to denial or dishonesty will ever manage to replace reality. The facts are the facts. Deny gravity all you want, daily, as a matter of policy…but one misstep and you still fall. The fall feels farther; more jarring, because your worldview did not even include the possibility. “Damage control” should not be spinning truth into lies that better serve a bottom line while countless other children are left at risk. True damage control is minimizing the moments between crime & admission of said crime. Otherwise you are building your empire on unexploded ordinance, guaranteeing more collateral damage. The first reports against this serial sexual predator at Poly Prep were made in 1966. He lived free among our children until his death thirty years later. It is 2010 and Poly Prep has still not taken responsibility for it’s action and inaction. The time to wake up and acknowledge the past is always now; still they fight.

“Philip Foglietta worked as a coach and Physical Education Teacher at Poly Prep from 1966 to 1991. He died in 1998, without being held accountable in a single criminal or civil forum for his numerous, prolonged and heinous crimes against children.”

“John Joseph Paggioli filed a Civil Suit against Poly Prep, Harman, and past Administrators and Coaches alleging that the school was indeed aware of the problem as far back as Foglietta’s first years of employ up to his “Retirement” in 1991, 26 years after his arrival. This lawsuit was dismissed in January 2006, not on the merits, but rather on the basis that the statute of limitations had expired.”

There will be much more to follow as this story, over forty years old, continues to develop. Until then, please read on. Not in my words, but in their words.