Abuse Allegations Against Philly Sportswriter Bill Conlin Continue Societal Sea Change

Ever since the horrifying allegations against Jerry Sandusky broke in November, it seems the sports world can no longer go a few weeks without another high-profile sexual abuse allegation. Earlier today, Nancy Phillips of the Philadelphia Inquirer broke the story that four people claim to have been sexually abused by Bill Conlin, Hall of Fame baseball writer and columnist with the Philadelphia Daily News.

“In vivid accounts,” Phillips writes, “the four say Conlin groped and fondled them, and touched their genitals, in assaults in the 1970s, when they were from ages 7 to 12.”

Phillips’ detailed (and disturbing) report includes allegations of abuse from within Conlin’s own family.

Conlin, visited at his condominium in a gated development in Largo, Fla., by a Reuters reporter, said, “I have nothing to say” and provided contact information for his attorney before closing the door.

The timing of this story — so closely following the allegations against Jerry Sandusky and Syracuse University’s former basketball coach Bernie Fine — is no coincidence.

Kelley Blanchet, one of the alleged victims, and also Conlin’s niece, told the paper that hearing about the Penn State scandal incited painful memories of her own abuse. People knew what happened to her and the other alleged victims, Blanchet said. But parents avoided the police, settling instead to keep Conlin away from their children. Young children hurt by a trusted adult while that adult continues on, free from punishment — it’s all too eerily familiar.

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As my earlier column suggested, the nation’s reaction to Sandusky and his victims signals a turning point in our “blame the victim” culture. The Syracuse story emerged. ESPN’s Rick Reilly received a flood of emails from rape and assault victims who still battle their demons. Notre Dame professor Mark P. McKenna revealed his own painful story on Slate.com. The less isolated the victims feel, the more likely they are to tell their stories.

Meanwhile the cover-ups and denials seem less and less convincing. Conlin, who retired today, even wrote a column about the Sandusky case for the Daily News. Referencing the prototypical story of the bystander effect, the tragedy of Kitty Genovese in New York City, Conlin argued that anyone who claims they would have handled Sandusky better than Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary or Tim Curley should realize, “the moment itself has a cruel way of suspending our fearless intentions.”

For Blanchet, now a prosecutor in Atlantic City, and the other alleged victims, this moment has its own cruelty. The statute of limitations has run out, and they can no longer press charges. Making matters worse was the dismissive and tone-deaf reaction of the Baseball Writers Association of America, which released a statement saying, “The allegations have no bearing on [Conlin’s] winning the 2011 J.G. Taylor Spink Award, which was in recognition of his notable career as a baseball writer.”

But don’t expect the current tide to stop. This story will likely strengthen the courage of the victims we have yet to hear from. We can only hope that one day, no victim of rape or assault will fear the silent institution, the shame, or the pointed fingers of those who refuse to listen.

Karie Meltzer can be reached at kjmeltzer@gmail.com.

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