The sports network ESPN has taken the lead in breaking the stories of sexual abuse at both Penn State and Syracuse University, but there is one abuse story with a sports angle that ESPN has not touched and probably never will.
I refer here to the case of Steven Nary. As a skinny 17-year-old in 1995, Nary was the highest-scoring basketball player in California’s Riverside County. For the last 16 years, however, he has played his ball inside the walls of California’s prisons.
I have told Nary’s story before on these pages, but the widespread outrage spawned by the abuse cases at Penn State and Syracuse calls for renewed outrage at the double injustice Nary has suffered.
If Jerry Sandusky’s victims at Penn State were typically pre-teens, at Syracuse it was different. Bobby Davis credibly claims that assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine began to molest him when he was 12 and, according to ESPN, continued “this pattern of sexual abuse/molestation … until he was 27.”
Nary was a naive 18-year-old sailor when he was abused, except that the word “abuse” does not do justice to what happened to Nary. “Rape” is a better word. “Kidnapping” is not far off.
The would-be rapist, Juan Pifarre, a hefty 53-year-old with a couple of priors, found Nary hopelessly drunk at a co-ed San Francisco disco, lured him to his house under false pretenses, probably drugged him, fellated him and then tried to sodomize him by force.
In the Syracuse case, Davis is still not certain why he allowed the abuse to continue for so many years. “Did I think I was gay? Or I don’t know why. I just didn’t know,” he told ESPN. “I thought I had a problem ’cause I let it happen, and then I realized it wasn’t my fault. It’s his fault.”
Nary did not have 15 years to contemplate what was happening to him, but he was equally confused. “I have struggled with trying to understand why I let it all just happen,” he wrote to me from prison.
“I could not move, and I could not do anything. He just kept trying and trying over and over. In fact it brings me to tears as I write this because I have avoided this image for so long.”
Davis had only to fend off Fine’s groping and grabbing. Nary found himself barely conscious in a strange bed with a 200-pound man “pulling my shorts down to force anal sex on me.”
As Nary testified honestly at his trial, he had never been in a fight before in his life, never even lost his temper, but when he somehow got his mind back that night and his will, he fought like a man possessed. Pifarre had picked the wrong kid to rape.
Nary does not really remember the sequence of events, never did. When he finally subdued the relentless Pifarre, he grabbed his clothes, fled into the early morning darkness and eventually made his way back to the Alameda Naval Air Station where Pifarre had falsely promised to drive him just hours before.
After talking to the chaplain, Nary called the police and turned himself in, not knowing that Pifarre was dead. Fearful of upsetting the Clinton administration in an election year and the host city on a gay issue, the Navy shamefully ignored its own regulations in its haste to rid itself of this now troublesome sailor.
In late century San Francisco, as Nary was about to learn, the truth mattered no more than it had in early century Selma or Scottsboro.
The prosecution presented Pifarre to the jury as a leading Hispanic activist, although he had, in fact, secured his residency through a fraudulent marriage, used illegal drugs regularly, including cocaine, was drunk often and was a mean drunk.
It gets worse. Pifarre had been arrested at least once for indecent exposure and on another occasion for battery stemming from a sexual molestation. He had a history of seducing young men under false pretenses and did not stop to ask for “proof.” He likely drugged them, and he had no compunction about raping them.
At Syracuse or Penn State, locals would have recognized Pifarre for the sexual predator he was. In San Francisco, Pifarre was the victim, Nary the villain.
Incredibly, the prosecutor attacked Nary for his honest admission of feeling “disgusted” after coerced oral sex. He argued that the one kind of person “who feels bad about what they did” – meaning oral sex with another man – is the kind of “person who is homophobic.”
Nary never had a chance. After a generation of propaganda, locals had convinced themselves that only a bigot would find sex with another man unnatural, even if coerced. The jury convicted Nary of second-degree murder, 16 years to life.
In 2009, at Nary’s first parole hearing, the board proved to be as morally dense as the jury. The commissioner, for instance, compared Nary’s use of female prostitutes to Pifarre’s attempted rape and asked, “On the morality scale … what was so different about the situation with Juan that caused you to do what you did?”
The San Francisco Superior Court continued the madness. In refusing to overturn the board’s denial of parole, the court ruled, “the motive for [Nary's] crime was trivial in relation to the offense.”
Bizarrely, the court did not challenge the motive: namely that after begging the older man on his back to stop trying to penetrate him, Nary “exploded.” Only in San Francisco could attempted rape be considered “trivial.” Indeed, the court expressed shock and dismay that “the Petitioner [Nary] blames the victim to some degree.”
Now 34, the 6′-5″ Nary may be the best ballplayer in the California prison system. This skill has helped keep him sane and alive during the 16 years of his incarceration.
Only public exposure of this injustice will spring him. ESPN has that power. If you know someone at the network, please pass the word.