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Sometimes the child would say, "I should've run away. I should've kicked and screamed. I should've told someone. Why didn't I?"
"You didn't know any better," the man said. "You were too afraid. You were too ashamed. Don't beat yourself up. It's O.K."
Then he'd put his arm around him again, and they'd walk on through the rolling meadows in silence, letting the world be what it is, sad and beautiful.
No one will ever know how many flashbacks were triggered by the graying man in the red prison jumpsuit. No one will ever know how many private doors were battered open by the yearlong siege of headlines and news stories about the boys Jerry Sandusky violated in locker rooms and on football road trips, and about the university officials who chose to protect image and money rather than children.
But when Penn State students took to the streets to vent their rage that their beloved head coach, Joe Paterno, had been fired for not doing enough, when some smashed windows and overturned a news van, and when a friend of Kayla's on Facebook asked, "Why is JoePa blamed?" ... the last wall of fear broke in her. Rage roared through her, blew away the last layer of fog from her brainwashed child's mind, demanded action. Some other coach abusing some other child, and the subsequent apathy to the wreckage that wrought, allowed her to finally see just how deeply she had been wronged and how warped was humanity's response to the disease.
A national newspaper reporter, by chance, had just arrived to do a feature story on her. Kayla suddenly found herself telling the whole world what she'd never dreamed she'd tell a soul, and then again and again as the 2012 Olympics drew near. It took a savage toll; she felt like the 16-year-old girl in the psychiatric ward after each telling. But at 22 she discovered just what R.A.—as he sat in a room and wrote one stabbing sentence after another for the book that would bare his horror—had found: the astonishing energy that's liberated when a human being lets go of the lid she's been holding on top of a volcano. The force that swept Kayla right past a torn left-knee ligament five months before the Summer Games, right past four opponents in five hours in London to win the gold medal and to suddenly realize, as the national anthem soared and her tears streamed and her guard dropped further still, that the 13-year-old damaged child was standing beside her on that podium. The force that swept a 37-year-old scrap-heap knuckleballer to his 20th win that same summer on a day when Mets fans in New York City chanted his name, waved giant R's and A's and loved him in a way that people love a child or a monk or a dying man who has shed all his armor and come before them in his truth.
The telling of their torment, both found, robbed it of its randomness, infused it with a purpose that pulled fellow victims to them in droves, wandering ghosts turning to them for the courage to speak the name of the disease that had disembodied them. They stood in line for hours at R.A.'s book signings, handed him letters detailing agonies they'd never whispered, leaned close and murmured that because of him they were going home that very night to tell their spouses why they'd always been just out of reach. They wrote to him from prisons they found themselves in because they'd done what had been done to them, and even a fellow ballplayer approached him for help because he too had been infected. They called and texted Kayla at night, astonished that a gold medalist would give them her phone number and tell them to contact her anytime they felt lost.
She went back into therapy after the Olympics because even a gold medal isn't big or shiny enough to pierce every shadow, and she didn't want old issues to mar the life she envisioned with Aaron, the man who'd become her fiancé. She, too, began working on a book, one that would help parents recognize the warning signs in their children. Another former Olympian, Katherine Starr—who had been molested for years by her swimming coach when she competed for Great Britain—founded Safe4Athletes to help sexually abused athletes get counseling and legal help, and to persuade sports organizations to screen coaches far more closely.
R.A. climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and helped raise $100,000 to fund Bombay Teen Challenge, a program designed partly to rescue and rehabilitate girls sold into sexual slavery in India, and would take his two daughters there to learn more about it. He made sure that all four of his children—two sons had joined his and Anne's brood—felt free to speak about sex organs and sexuality because he knew that was the foundation that had to be laid first.
And gradually, as heroes such as R.A. and Kayla began coming forward, the multitudes who had been molested began losing their fear of being ostracized, and the healing began that broke the vicious cycle, drastically whittling the number of victims who would turn into perpetrators. Primers on the subject became commonplace, and training programs for children and parents, such as the one that's brought us together here today, became as ordinary as Lamaze classes for pregnant women.