Sports Illustrated Inspiring PERFORMERS 2012
Clearly, those early years of the new millennium were a mess, and we still haven't come up with a proper name for them. What do you call an age when an abscess bursts?
Sitting in this classroom as we enter the 22nd century, nearly a hundred years later, it's difficult to believe that such an epidemic could occur, devouring boys and girls simply because they couldn't open their lips to utter its name. Until finally ... well, many experts point to 2012 as the year in which the disease began to loosen its grip.
How could it possibly ravage that many—one in four girls and one in six boys—with some experts convinced that the true number for all children was one in three? I could offer you a half-dozen fallacies that fed the disease, but I'll give you just one: otherness.
You see, the first other that people pointed to was the Catholic Church, roughly 4,000 of its priests having infected tens of thousands of children over the previous half century, leading many to believe that the disease was largely limited to them. Then came news of outbreaks raging through an organization dedicated to building character in young males, the Boy Scouts—an unsettling development that still allowed tens of millions, whose children had never taken the Scout's Oath, to feel safe. It was only when people realized that the sickness had spread to the temples where everyone worshipped—to the gymnasiums and stadiums of sports—that the reckoning began, and the air in which the disease thrived started to change.
Of course, it had been festering quietly in athletics long before that, scores of towns having been jolted by cases of coaches who turned out to be carriers. But '12 was the year when a former assistant football coach at a renowned university was imprisoned for life for molesting children; when his boss, a legendary head coach, died soon after being dethroned for not following through on the evidence; when the locker room victims emerged; when former athletes gathered the courage to confront USA Swimming and USA Gymnastics coaches for preying upon them when they were young ... and when the National League Cy Young Award winner, along with one of that year's Olympic stars—the first American to win a gold medal in judo—declared that they were victims as well.
In fact, R.A. Dickey and Kayla Harrison are the pioneers we'll look at in today's class, two athletes who stepped out of the shadows that helped breed the secret disease and showed us how to reach its other side.
Kayla was 14 when she tried to bargain with the doctor. "Please?" she begged. "Can't you just put a cast on the thumb and do the surgery after the Junior Worlds?"
"I could," the hand specialist replied, "but you won't have a thumb left. The bones in it are completely shattered."
This doctor just didn't get it. Kayla Harrison had once won two matches with a shredded shoulder joint, bone shards slicing into it from both sides. She had barreled right through four concussions, two broken shoulder blades, a broken right foot and even that broken left collarbone and left arm at age 13 when her coach and predator—who was 16 years older than she, 114 pounds heavier and angry at her that day—got carried away sparring and landed atop her in a bone-snapping heap. In no time she was back to setting her alarm for 5 a.m. for three-mile runs and stomach crunches in the dark, back to passing out from wearing a wet suit beneath her judo gi in order to cut weight.