Subway mapping (MTA & DNA)


You won’t read this entry on the subway, but you may well have read the Daily News article by Michael O’Keeffe while moving through a tunnel beneath New York City.

Your ride this morning, was in a roughly 60x10 stainless steel box, which at rush hour may hold as many as two-hundred and fifty human beings. Many of you read a story of a man who had experienced sexual abuse, and if you made it all the way through, may have thought: “Not me”.

I wish that for you.

I have had people tell me that they “didn’t know anyone that had happened to”. The statistics will say that approximately 63 people in your rush hour subway car had a very different reaction, from direct personal experience alone.

Some percentages, for perspective:

The percentage of boys who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences before age 16 in America is comparable to the percentage of Americans who have  blue eyes. The percentage of girls who have experienced these abuses is comparable to the percentage of Americans who have a college degree.

Have you met anyone with blue eyes? Have you met anyone with a college degree? Tens of millions Americans have lived with, have lived through childhood sexual abuse. Not all of them lived long enough to earn the label of ‘survivor’. None of us, whether we have dodged this all-too-common bullet or not, have the luxury of hearing these stories as stories about ‘Them’. They are always stories about ‘Us’.

We sit or stand in our subway cars, and we create the illusion of separation from those who are surrounding us, as if this were the last line of defense against something that threatened our own way of life. We look at the stockbroker in the suit we could never afford, the woman in the shoes we wouldn’t be caught dead in. We hear a loud expletive-laced argument between teenagers, or the hypnotic, murmured davening of Hasidim. We smell the push cart gyro someone is shoveling in, in between stops, or we breathe in the over-perfumed (or under-groomed) aroma of the person shoe-horned in next to us and think “Not me…”

This is New York City. Often we experience all of these things in a single moment of near sensory-overload. But our senses do not overload. We leave that to John Rocker on the 7. We are New Yorkers. We can handle it. We are made for it. We are made of it.

And speaking of ingredients…

The mapping of the human genome tells us that 98.77% of DNA base pairs of humans and chimpanzees are the same. The person scrolling down this page on their iPad & Ronald Reagan’s late co-star Bonzo. 98.77% the same. The Human Genome Project has also told us that, genetically, we are 60% the same as a delicious, potassium-packed banana. Yet somehow, we will look across the subway car, and see a human being that we so quickly define and dismiss as ‘Other’. The homeless man, the CEO, the migrant worker, the child in the stroller that just rolled across the tops of your feet, the owner of the elbow lodged in your ribs. Name a nationality, name a religion, name a shade, name an age, name an occupation…and try to find a way that is of any substance that goes beyond the surface to distinguish Us from Them.

Can. Not. Be. Done.

We all want to be happy, but struggle to find what the truly means. We all want to avoid suffering, and often mistakenly or ignorantly bring worse upon ourselves.  We throw monkey wrenches into our own gears. We slip on the banana peels of ourselves. Ten-thousand joys and ten-thousand sorrows…the Eight Worldly Winds: praise and blame, success and failure, pleasure and pain, fame and disrepute…find us all in mildly varying measures.

Like it or not, embrace it or reject it, scientifically and spiritually speaking:

We are made of the same stuff.

No ‘Not me’…no ’Me’…there is only ever Us.

I’m reminded of a line from Fight Club “We cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep.” When it comes to male survivors of sexual abuse…we are you, and we are everywhere. We are your fathers and your sons. We are your uncles and your cousins. We are your husbands and your boyfriends. We are your co-workers, your teammates, your friends.

We don’t get to be ‘different’…We’ve got too much company.

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….

Travel team: Larchmont, NY

I didn’t know what to expect, or when to expect it. I thought I might read while I waited so I brought a book with me, only two chapters remaining. I planned to write more, so thank your lucky stars, this entry could have been several thousand words longer. Instead, the interaction of the two characters in the picture above provided the entertainment.

So I sat nursing my overpriced iced coffee, allowing myself the rare luxury of distraction courtesy of the two men performing their homage to silent era cinematic comedy teams, and waited for the arrival of the man I came here to meet. I had never in my life paid for an iced coffee and that minor beverage milestone wouldn’t be my last first on this summer Sunday. This man and I had never met, but I was aware that he had done enough online research to have a clue as to who he was looking for. I made sure to wear the glasses that I only wear for driving (and profile pictures, apparently). As for who I would be looking for, I would know his face as quickly as tens of millions of others would. Instantly.

I sat by the floor-to-ceiling front window to catch him, all the while wondering if I would be the first person to recognize him. A figure who at one time owned the world stage, had traveled four hours to this meeting. His last update, via text message, had him passing Greenwich. Twenty-three minutes away, according to his GPS. Twenty-three more minutes of stretching the hour-old tall/small iced coffee to justify my presence in this place.

Though we had not met, this man & I are members of the same fraternity. Not a fraternity of the sort that I avoided like each and every one of Moses’ ten plagues in my university years. Not the sort that uses the Greek alphabet to signify membership, but a fraternity nonetheless. Rather than a foreign alphabet, this group is most often represented by no letters, no words, no sound at all that might betray a brother’s membership. This is a non-exclusive club, yet at one time or another most of us have believed that we were it’s sole member. Statistics will say that at the very least, one in six men wear our colors. More often than not, our colors have been camouflage. A uniform that some of us have worn forever, to pass, to blend, to hide. Half of us have been—or will be—laid to rest in this suit, having worn it from the moment of indoctrination until the day all of our remaining moments have run their course. Some among us will see that cessation as the closest thing to mercy they have known in several decades.

This man, with his place in athletic history secured, and I—absolutely nobody of note—have a shorthand before we speak, and a code when we do. We finish each other’s sentences in a common language. Our plan to meet for forty-five minutes becomes a few hours. I imagine that conscripted soldiers relate in just the same way. What few words are needed express common thoughts, relate common experiences, no matter how divergent the backgrounds. What has separated us from the rest of the world is exactly what bonds us to each other immediately. A characteristic that those nearest and dearest to us have only ever experienced as ‘the distance’, we would call simply: ‘knowing’, if we needed to call it anything at all. We don’t.

What may be walls in our closest relationships function as bridges to complete strangers. The hope is that, eventually, these structures may be transformed into gateways through which re-entry into the world of the living is possible. In the instant of knowing that you are not alone, there is some measure of comfort, of validation. It is not just you. You are not insane. It was not your fault. It is as if you have had a recurring nightmare for years—for decades—and someone, at the benighted nadir of a nightmare all their own, has heard your silent scream. I hear you, brother.

The transformative power of that…

This secret society has no secret handshake, and it is part of my work to make it a secret no more. Handshakes are for one’s who don’t know. We know all too well, and through that, we know each other better than most. Handshake? Forget handshakes. We, who can shy away from human contact or seek it with compulsive destructiveness, can greet our brothers with a hug, damn it. We get it. We understand. We know.