Source: Dec. 26 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday. That’s potentially five girls on every 20-member soccer squad, two boys on every 12-player basketball team.
THE CONVERSATION WASN’T EASY, fun or something that Steve Rockrohr had been particularly looking forward to. But he felt as if he had no choice. Rumors of a mysterious van in his neighborhood, on top of the horrific stories in the news, prompted him and his wife, Mary, to take action. So one night last month, a few days after Jerry Sandusky, Mike McQueary and The Second Mile became household names, the suburban Chicago father introduced his 7- and 9-year-old sons, both athletes, to a topic that makes every parent cringe: sexual abuse.
Right there at the family dinner table, Rockrohr and his wife, a teacher, talked about good touch and bad touch. They insisted that if anyone ever made the kids feel uncomfortable, they should tell Mom and Dad. Immediately. And they let it be known that Mom and Dad could always be trusted. No matter what it might be, no matter what anyone else might say, Mom and Dad will always be here for you. Forever.
The boys quietly listened as the words spilled into the room. When it was all over, the 7-year-old affirmed that yes, he understood. Now could he go play with his LEGOs? The 9-year-old processed things a bit deeper and asked a few questions: Why was this so important now? What happened? Am I not safe? “You could just sense this loss of innocence,” says Rockrohr, the athletic director at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, Ill. “I felt like I had just told my kids there was no Santa Claus.”
It was an uncomfortable chat that others across the country have surely replicated at dinner tables, in bedrooms and on car rides during the past month and a half. But for others, the topic is too sensitive. The culture of normalcy is powerful. Addressing a run-of-the-mill societal problem like poverty is hard enough; turn to a taboo topic like sexual abuse and the discussion becomes nearly impossible.
Every day that passes, the urgency of what allegedly happened at Penn State and Syracuse undoubtedly lessens. It’s human nature: The more distant an uncomfortable situation becomes, the less we want to talk about it. So parents, coaches and administrators will do what comes naturally — exercise denial. Not my coach. Not my kid. Not my town. Yet one can’t help wondering: What if they’re wrong?