Haunt­ing cases re­mind us any­one can be­come vic­tim of abuse

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - EA­MONN SWEENEY

ILOVE to see my daugh­ters get­ting in­volved in sport. Kids need to have in­ter­ests out­side school, things which chal­lenge and bring out the best of them. It gives me a great feel­ing to see how much en­joy­ment they get out of ath­let­ics and tae-kwon-do and mu­sic.

When we talk about these ac­tiv­i­ties, I hear the names of the guys who coach them: Declan in ath­let­ics, Dan at mar­tial arts, Keith at band prac­tice. Peo­ple like this play a spe­cial part in your life. You re­mem­ber them for a long time. I’ve for­got­ten most of the stuff I stud­ied in the Leav­ing but there are matches, races and even train­ing ses­sions which come back to me clear as day.

My over­whelm­ing feel­ing to­wards the peo­ple who coached and helped me out then is one of grat­i­tude. I’ll al­ways have fond mem­o­ries of Paddy Nan­gle and Christy Gal­lagher at Gaelic foot­ball, of John Hogge at soc­cer and Chris­tine Han­non at badminton. Hardly a week goes by with­out me think­ing fondly of train­ing for ath­let­ics with Padraig Cal­laghan.

I re­mem­ber all those names. I also re­mem­ber Ro­nan McCor­mack.

Ro­nan McCor­mack who trained me for Com­mu­nity Games and, briefly, for Gaelic foot­ball. Ro­nan McCor­mack who three years ago was jailed for seven years and 10 months, two years sus­pended, for sex­u­ally as­sault­ing five un­der­age foot­ballers from my club be­tween 1981 and 1986.

They were a few years younger than me, those lads. But I knew them, one of them par­tic­u­larly well be­cause he lived just down the road and was a good friend of my brother’s. You could not, and I don’t ex­ag­ger­ate, have met a nicer man.

I wrote about the McCor­mack case not just to con­demn the per­pe­tra­tor but to salute the courage of those men who brought him to jus­tice by tes­ti­fy­ing in court and re­liv­ing mem­o­ries which they ad­mit­ted had been enor­mously painful. The case still haunts me. My broth­ers or I could have been tar­geted by Ro­nan McCor­mack. It was just pure luck that we weren’t.

Any­one can be­come a vic­tim of abuse. The vic­tim con­trib­utes noth­ing to the of­fence.

Back in the 1980s, sex­ual abuse was a taboo sub­ject. Things are dif­fer­ent these days. We’re all aware of how chil­dren have been be­trayed by peo­ple in po­si­tions of au­thor­ity. I don’t live in fear but I’m aware that put­ting your kids in the hands of some­one else does re­quire a cer­tain amount of trust. You let them out into the world and you pray they never meet a Ro­nan McCor­mack.

Or a Tom Humphries, who when he met a 14-year-old girl at a camo­gie event de­cided to send her a pic­ture of his pe­nis. And, when she asked him not to con­tact her any­more, em­barked on a two-year groom­ing cam­paign, send­ing sev­eral thou­sand texts un­til fi­nally he suc­ceeded in sex­u­ally abus­ing and defiling her. There are vet­ting pro­ce­dures in place now which weren’t there in the 1980s but they didn’t stop Tom Humphries. A re­ally de­ter­mined paedophile, one sus­pects, will al­ways find a way.

By do­ing so they change what should have been pre­cious mem­o­ries into night­mares. Fr Brian D’Arcy’s com­ment that Tom Humphries’s vic­tim “has got a life sen­tence” rings true. At the McCor­mack trial, one of his vic­tims said, “That man has ru­ined a lot of my life.” An­other spoke of how heart­break­ing it was for him to tell his teenage daugh­ters what had hap­pened to him. Sex­ual abuse is in a way like an on­go­ing mur­der, an as­sault which con­tin­ues long after the dates named in court. That is its es­sen­tial hor­ror.

We overuse the lan­guage of moral­ity in sports jour­nal­ism. We go on about play­ers ‘lack­ing moral courage’ when they won’t pass the ball short, about ‘un­for­giv­able cyn­i­cism’ when one man pulls an­other’s jersey, or a player mak­ing a few bob out of the game ‘de­stroy­ing the spirit of the GAA’. But the Humphries case shows up how mean­ing­less this kind of rhetoric is.

Here was a real moral is­sue to be ad­dressed. Yet the way in which cer­tain well-known jour­nal­ists, sports­men and pun­dits ac­tu­ally dealt with it be­trayed a kind of moral blind­ness.

In this re­spect, one of the most jaw-drop­ping as­pects of the whole af­fair was how, in 2012, David Walsh took um­brage at Matt Cooper’s sug­ges­tion that Tom Humphries was in the same league as Lance Arm­strong. Not at all, said Walsh, be­fore em­bark­ing upon one more de­fence of Humphries.

Walsh was right but not in the way he thought. There is no com­par­i­son be­tween Arm­strong and Humphries. Dop­ing might be an of­fence against the spirit of sport but child sex­ual abuse is an of­fence against the spirit of hu­man­ity and in par­tic­u­lar against the spirit of the abused child. The hap­pi­ness of one child is worth ev­ery Tour de France ever raced.

I salute ev­ery­one who finds the courage to stand up against their abusers. I don’t think I would be so brave. And I hope that in the end Tom Humphries’s vic­tim can find some kind of peace. That is the most im­por­tant thing of all about this case.

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