From the Safe Sport Leadership Conference in Colorado Springs.
New York Times article "Coaching Gives Abusers Opportunity and Trust"
Chris Gavagan, a filmmaker who is making a documentary on sexual abuse in sports called “Coached Into Silence,” based largely on abuse he said he endured from a youth hockey coach starting when he was 14, is among those who believe the problems for boys in sports are much larger than suspected. Not only does it happen more than people want to think, he said, but the culture of sports works against a child trying to report it.
“Sexually abused boys are going to be the most silent group,” Gavagan said, adding that the allegations involving Sandusky, if true, fit a familiar pattern.
“With the whole macho atmosphere of sports, it seems to be the perfect storm of circumstances,” he said. “There’s the cult of personality that keep these guys the kings of their little kingdoms, the sense of hero worship. The kinds of things Sandusky was offering those boys is every boy’s dream — trips to bowl games, going down on the field. It allows these things to go on for a long time. And when you don’t tell someone the first time it happens, you already feel complicit.”
Gavagan has become involved in the rush to respond to the allegations against Sandusky and Fine, including testifying in front of a Pennsylvania legislative committee supporting laws requiring people to formally report to the authorities any allegations of sex abuse.
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 them at 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….
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.
In our earliest research we began looking for local cases that could be possible fits for Coached into Silence. It didn’t take us long to be drawn in to the allegations against New York basketball coaching legend Bob Oliva, of Christ the King Regional High School.
The man featured in this article, Oliva’s former player and eventually his assistant coach, Ray Paprocky found himself in what–to an outsider–seemed like the most difficult position imaginable. His mentor accused and his friend among those doing the accusing. As a scandal swirled, at the eye of this storm, stood Ray.
As we followed each development, it brought us back time and time again to the work of Michael O'Keeffe in the Daily News. Difficult as it often is to keep the blood at 98.6 degrees while scrolling through them, I have made an effort to study as many of the reader comments as I can when the subject matter is allegations of sexual abuse. It is by no means a scientific survey of public opinion, but it is an excellent way to acquaint oneself with the talking (nay, shouting) points on both sides. Generally, the bulk of the comments fall into two broad categories: those who bust out the pitchforks and torches to lynch/castrate the alleged perpetrator, and those who attack the victims who brought the allegations. More often than not, this latter group cyber-shouts something about ‘thoze liers R jus tryin 2 get CA$H’. Just as often, a litany of outrageously homophobic vitriol spews forth, attacking the “manhood” of children; now grown. What I found was enough anonymous hatred and violence voiced on both sides to fill an entire Potter’s Field worth of graves.
As I forced myself to wade through the caps lock cacophony of comments and contretemps, a compelling drama developed. One user continued to chime in; a voice of reason. He said that he had knowledge of the case and he believed the charges. As defenders of Oliva continued to post accusations of gold-digging, lying “victims” (their quotes) who “wanted it” (my quotes), the voice-of-reason-poster himself grew more adamant. He knew. He believed. More doubt and more hate followed from the peanut gallery.
As what passes for discourse on the internet escalated, our knowing, believing voice of reason upped the ante and took an extraordinary step: he announced himself as Ray Paprocky–the very subject of the article–and posted his phone number, challenging anyone who didn’t believe to talk to him directly for clarification. It had to be a joke. It had to be an impostor. If it was really him…he was crazy…but he was precisely my kind of crazy.
What did it cost to give it a shot? I mean, I’m paying to have a thousand text messages a month,right? So…
I sent the following text:
“Ray, I saw your post on the Daily News site. I’m directing a documentary about the sexual abuse of boys by coaches. It would be priceless to talk to you on the topic. Sorry for the informality, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Chris Gavagan, dir. Coached into Silence”
Two hours later, the digital peal of a bell alerted me that a text message had arrived.
“Give me a call tomorrow. I’m not sure how much I can help. I am not a victim of a predator. I’m simply a friend of one.”
We spoke the next day, and he had enough insights and stories not just for Coached into Silence, but for his own mini-series. He invited us the the arraignment, and a few days later we made our way from Brooklyn to Boston, and the Suffolk County Courthouse at Pemberton Square.
Upon introducing myself, the man we only recognized from the photograph that you see above greeted us as friends. He spoke with reporters, engagingly and with a no-nonsense charm that all the gravity of the moment, which obviously weighed on him, couldn’t dim. He’s one of those men that you find yourself walking away from saying simply–to no one in particular–“what a great guy.” Above it all, what you take away from a moment or an hour spent with him is his matter-of-fact integrity.
Ray Paprocky thinks there is nothing special about what he did. He may believe that anyone would have done the same in his position, even as he draws the ire of so many who did not. When the issue is the sexual abuse of children, all too often the default position for one’s head is buried deep in the sand. Ray saw his choice as no choice at all. It was just the right thing when faced with the most reprehensible of wrongs. No alternative, no big deal.
To those who have summoned the courage to bring the accusations, in the face of an institution intent on silencing them, Ray’s stance was The Biggest Deal. He believed. Nothing is more important to one who has finally, somehow, forced the seemingly unspeakable words from their mouth. He believed and he took the steps to get a child molesting coach–no matter what his reputation or win/loss record was–away from other boys.
There’s a word for someone who does such a thing, and it’s the word that Ray Paprocky is least likely to apply to himself. That word is hero.
Ray is one of mine and if he ever reads this, his reaction will more than likely be to tell me who the real heroes are. There is always room for more names on that roster. ‘Anonymous’ may be the most common name of all.
I can only imagine the strength of those who have spent their lives on the front lines battling against this pandemic. The process of making Coached into Silence requires so much looking-at-the-worst. Heartbreaking story after heartbreaking story in the hundreds daily. A thousand a week for months on end. And when you think you’ve seen it all, a dozen of the latest horrors arrive in your inbox. The shadows are unbelievably dark, yet not a day passes that I am not inspired, encouraged, emboldened and reenergized by seeing the best. The light provided by so many others. The courage of those who do what is right. The strength of those who have survived. The determination of those who lend their voice to others who cannot speak for themselves.
Tania, Ron, Steve, Megan, Paul, Mark, Jim, Sheldon, JP, Tony, Robert, Marci, Chris, Don, Angela, Lynn, Rick, Gabe, Kathy, Theo, Kevin, Aaron, John, Phyllis, Heath, Beth Ann, Durell, Lyn, Joe, Patricia, Wayne, Rhett, Sherri, Rommell, Darlene, Taylor, Catherine, Casper, Ken, Reilly, Jeffrey, Tyler, Alison, Patrick, Mackenzie, Scott, Renu, Felicia, Tim, Glenn, Flavia, Arny, Sam, David, Lee, Erik, Ginny, Laveranues, Loretta, Bob, Brooke, Andrew, Melissa, Sean, Arlene, Christine, Samuel, Darlena, Lisa, Keith, Julian, Nikki, Stephen, Jill, Carla, Allan, Gabriel, Lauren, Vivian, Richard, Tracie, Edward, Kip, Jennifer, Caitlin, Marty, Billy, Constance, Christopher, Ophelia, Antwone, Leslie, Stacy, Nissa, Donnie, Ruth, Byron, Karin, Michael, Margaret, Caesaro, Douglas, Kamala, Michelle, Todd, Dana, Erin, Matt, Jackie…and yes, Ray.
I could go on for the rest of my days…and I will, in no small part because of you. Thank you all for who you are, and what you do.
* a parting note to all who would try to divide and conquer on the basis of gender:
Look at those names, and find another tactic. –CG
…and there are the stories that write us.
A chance meeting with a hockey coach over twenty years ago uniquely qualified screenwriter Christopher Gavagan to tell this nonfiction tale.
In producing & directing Coached into Silence, Gavagan tells the stories of a diverse group of boys from every corner of this country whom the system failed to protect. Far more sinister than those failures of prevention, this documentary will shed light on the organizational, institutional and legal systems which have conspired in attempting to silence the victims for life while protecting profits, reputations and in some cases, the predators themselves.
These courageous survivors refuse to be silenced.
Coached into Silence will show a way to take back authorship of the rest of our lives, while writing a safer and more just future for the next generation.
When prevention fails, the children pay the price.