Caged Birds and Broken Wings:<br />
Laveranues Coles on Black Boys and the Silence of Child Molestation

Laveranues Coles

What is done in darkness must come to the light.

The scandal that rocked Pennsylvania State University’s football team over the past year as details emerged that former Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky raped and molested at least 10 young boys between the ages of 10 and 15 -- while University officials acquiesced in silence -- reflects the tortured nature of dark secrets. This case is important not only because it brings resolution to the victims of a most egregious crime, but because it has forced modern society to confront its own demons on the oft-avoided, hardly discussed topic of child sexual abuse.

Most young boys find it difficult to admit abuse, especially after they've achieved adulthood, because of myths we all absorb: the idea that real men are so strong that they're incapable of being victims. We've come to accept the lie that successful men are never vulnerable, either emotionally or physically. But what is lost is a more fundamental truth: young boys are not men. They are children who need and deserve to be protected.

[TIPS FOR PROTECTING BOYS FROM ABUSE]

An emphasis on a hyper-masculine ideal of Black manhood has been a way to escape the chains of our past, but it also places a burden on those who would admit to certain kinds of victimization. For you see, in a world in which you are already disadvantaged in education, employment and financial aspiration, it becomes sacrosanct to - at the very least - hold on to an innate sense of pride. How then could young Black boys ever admit to being raped or molested by another man?

As a victim of sexual abuse myself, from the age of 13, I learned very early that the process of revelation is particularly difficult because the conversation is one hardly ever articulated. Adults leave children without adequate language to describe what is happening or has happened to them; and far too often children are either consciously or subconsciously allowed to believe it was somehow their fault. As national statistics reveal as many as 1-in-4 girls and 1-in-6 boys are sexually abused, there are far more among us who suffer in silence, with no recompense, unable to express their pain or give voice to their experience.

The nature of silence around this taboo topic means the victims largely go unnoticed and unknown. But one brave new hero has emerged, and in a wonderfully ironic twist of fates, he is a member of America's gladiator regiment: the NFL.

How could this giant of a man---a sports hero---ever have been so vulnerable?

Putting to rest the fallacy that a victim cannot be a "real man", Laveranues Coles -- the NFL star wide-receiver, Pro Bowl champion and 2006 MVP -- stands in defiance of the myths.

Coles rarely gives interviews; and when it comes to his past and personal life, he has only provided one full-season pass. That was to the iconic Oprah Winfrey in 2005.

At the time Coles was living his dream playing with the New York Jets - the team that had first drafted him in 2000 - and from the outside his life was perfect. Except Coles had a secret, and one he felt was necessary to share. Much like the oft-quoted mantra "with great power comes great responsibility", Coles became the first NFL player to admit to being sexually abused as a child. For him it had been between the ages of 10 and 13 at the hands of a violent stepfather, who used a gun to his head and threats of doing bodily harm to his mother if he ever dared speak a word.

The news sent shockwaves throughout the sports world, and left many confused: How could this giant of a man---a sports hero---ever have been so vulnerable?

Coles' truth challenged the nuanced terms of sexual abuse and molestation, by forcing people to see the violent rape at the heart of these experiences. He also provides a rare picture of Black boy victims - and a triumphant example of resilience and survival.In light of the Sandusky conviction I wanted to create a space to discuss child molestation of young Black boys in particular. It was my aim to educate and inform, especially African-American mothers for whom loving and protecting their children is of utmost importance, but is often done with far too little assistance, resource or recourse.

Coles kindly agreed to discuss this important issue with the EBONY community. It turns out this real-life hero is more committed to saving and protecting the innocence of young children, than making touchdowns for glory or fame.

EBONY: Laveranues, children are often paralyzed by the trauma of rape and molestation. Looking back, is there anything that would have helped you during the time when you were being abused? What paths were there that you didn't recognize at the time?

LC: If others had spoken about it the way I have, that would have helped. As a child