In a massive, devastating feature up at Esquire, Eric Lewis writes about the sexual abuse carried out by football coach Philip Foglietta at Brooklyn’s Poly Prep Country Day School spanning from the 1960s through the 1980s. The details of the coverup, which ranges from incompetence to intimidation, might sound like a familiar story.
As an alumnus of Poly Prep, Lewis, now a lawyer who also wrote about the settlement the school reached for a 2013 New York Times piece, has a unique perspective. He was never a victim himself, but his friends and teammates were, and he can attest to the fact that no single revelation forced the abuse into the light. It was a longstanding piece of disconcerting gossip among students, and a repeatedly denied accusation at the administrative level:
We knew, more or less, that Foglietta abused our schoolmates at his apartment, where he lived with his mother until she died. We knew that he abused them at his house upstate, in Highland Falls, where he took kids from school on the weekends. And we knew that he abused them at Poly Prep: in the showers, in the dirt-floor gym, in the squash courts, and in the big green Chevy Impala he parked on a side street near school. Most of us didn’t know exactly what he did with “his boys,” but we joked uncomfortably about whatever it was all the time.
The Esquire story is based partially on information from a lawsuit alleging 40 years of coverup that Poly Prep settled in 2012. A court-ordered gag on details from that case recently expired, opening up the three-year legal battle’s documents and depositions, which show chronic indifference to complaints of molestation.
Foglietta joined Poly Prep in 1966. That same year, an eighth grader named William Jackson, attending on a scholarship, reported repeated instances of abuse to both his parents and the school officials.
“Ultimately, the school board decided that Jackson was a troublemaker who was not meeting his obligations as a scholarship student,” Lewis writes. “He was asked not to return for his sophomore year.”
In the early 1970s, a player named John Marino brought to administration several allegations of either experiencing or witnessing abuse. He was threatened with expulsion:
Marino and his parents met with William Williams, the headmaster of the school, and Harlow Parker, the dean of students and head of athletics. Ahead of the meeting, Foglietta had told Parker, a close friend of his, about Marino’s attempted punch; he blamed it on a heated conversation about Marino’s playing time. When Marino told Williams and Parker that Foglietta had “tried to jack him off,” the headmaster and dean called him a liar in front of his parents. Marino told me recently that the administrators threatened to expel him if he persisted in spreading rumors.
About a year later, Marino and his parents met with Williams and Parker a second time. This meeting came about after John reported seeing several boys masturbating and fellating Foglietta in his green Impala. Williams and Parker again denied the allegations. They told the Marinos that John was on “thin ice.”
In a 2009 deposition, Williams was asked about what action was taken as a result of these allegations. “It was inconceivable to us that Foglietta would do something like that,” he said. “He didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would do that, not at all.” He later added, “The boy just did not seem credible to us.”
The reports didn’t stop there, and neither did the negligence. According to Lewis’s writeup, Williams received at least one letter, which he trashed, and one phone call, which he ignored, anonymously claiming that Foglietta was “doing terrible things.” A John Doe plaintiff swore in a 2009 deposition that Parker witnessed Foglietta molesting him and never acted on it.
Lewis and his peers were only children when they ignored rumors of their classmates suffering abuse at the hands of the intimidating but popular coach. Still, he wonders about the culture that kept them complicit:
How could my teammates and I feel such intense loyalty for a man we believed was abusing children? It’s easy to say that it was a different time and that we were kids, with our own teenage anxieties and confusions about sex and identity. Preoccupied with our masculinity, in thrall to the turbocharged culture of football, and bound by a nearly religious devotion to our coach, we were all, I suspect, deeply afraid that we might be accused of being less than a man. In retrospect, the combination of idealization and fear that Foglietta inspired in us appears toxic. Even so, I remember some of the odious questions I asked to convince myself it was not my issue: Why make trouble? What exactly do we know? It’s kind of creepy, but how bad is it, really? Aren’t these kids making a choice? Won’t they get over it?