Marybeth T. Hagan
lives and writes in Havertown
HARRISBURG - Former Philadelphia Eagle Al Chesley brought more than his past football fame or his 6-foot, 3-inch, 240-pound frame here last week.
The former NFL linebacker bore his story of being sexually abused as a 13-year-old by someone he trusted.
Chesley stood below the spectacular rotunda in the State Capitol, miles and years away from the Louisiana Superdome where he played in Super Bowl XV in 1981.
He was in Harrisburg to urge lawmakers to support a bill languishing in the House that would allow victims of sexual abuse from years ago to file civil lawsuits.
Chesley said he grew up in a strict home in Washington, D.C., and spent his time shuttling between school and the Boys Club. One day, he said, a police officer offered to give him a ride to the club.
Chesley hopped into the car. But rather than go to the club, he was taken to the officer's home. There he was exposed to porn and molested.
Chesley kept the secret to himself for decades - in his case more than 30 years.
Now, the criminal and civil statute of limitations has passed for Chesley, and many others, to seek justice in the courts. He and victims' rights groups want to change the law.
"He could not talk about being abused until adulthood," said Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham. "This is common among victims."
The D.A. has aligned herself with Chesley and advocates from the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse, a nonprofit organization, in support of the House bill known as the Child Victims' Act.
If passed, the bill would open a window on the statute of limitations, giving victims of abuse long ago two years to file civil lawsuits. Any alleged claims would still have to be proved in court before damages were awarded.
Similar legislation has passed in California and Delaware in recent years.
The Catholic Church and insurance companies oppose the effort to allow a window for civil claims in Pennsylvania for fear of large payouts.
But allowing the civil claims helps victims with healing and leads to the identification of unknown predators, according to Marci Hamilton, a law professor and the author of
Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect its Children.
In California, about 1,000 victims came forward and 300 predators were identified, said Hamilton.
That seems like a good thing. However, lawmakers in Pennsylvania aren't eager to pass a similar law.
State Rep. Thomas R. Caltagirone (D., Berks), the House Judiciary Committee chairman, made clear he doesn't intend to give the bill a hearing. He says the proposed bill is driven by victims' desire to win large legal payouts.
Caltagirone says the bill is all about money, not about justice. How ironic.
Caltagirone voted with his cronies to give himself a 50 percent increase in his pension in 2001 and a pay raise in the middle of the night in 2005. Not only that, he took the self-induced pay raise immediately in unvouchered expenses, an act that was later deemed unconstitutional.
was all about money. It's time for Caltagirone to step out of his political comfort zone and learn something about the life-altering trauma of being abused as a child.
Chesley could also teach this pol lessons on worthwhile goals in life.
"I played football in a college championship game and a Super Bowl. It was great, but this is the most important work I've ever done," Chesley said. "I took off work today to be here. I work with children, and I see the gleam in their eyes. You can't put the gleam back in those eyes.
"It's all about protecting our children," said the mighty man and victim of boyhood abuse.