New York Daily News

September 29, 2011

Ripped from the headlines: 'Law & Order' episode deals with recent sex abuse scandals in NYC hoops

BY Michael O'Keeffe

We're waiting for our royalty check: Wednesday night's episode of NBC's "Law & Order: SVU" was ripped straight out of the I-Team's coverage of Bob Oliva and Ernest Lorch, the two prominent New York City basketball coaches who have been accused of using their jobs to sexually abuse young men.

The episode, "Personal Fouls," features Dan Lauria as a high school/youth basketball coach who is accused of abusing several players during the course of his lengthy and stellar career. Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh also have roles in Wednesday's episode.

Lauria's coach appears to be a composite of Oliva, the former Christ the King High School coach who pleaded guilty to sex abuse charges in Massachusetts in April, and Lorch, the founder Riverside Church who was indicted on a sex abuse charge in the Bay State almost one year ago.

Robert Hoatson, a Catholic priest who founded an organization called Road to Recovery that serves clergy abuse survivors, says the episode accurately portrayed the scars that survivors live with for decades. One of the characters who accuses the coach of sexual abuse is a junkie who tells the SVU detectives that he started getting high after the abuse ended.

"I think they did their research," Hoatson says. "I thought they did a very good job of portraying the affects of abuse, how people self-medicate."

Hoatson also thought Lauria, who played Vince Lombardi on Broadway last year and may be best known as the dad from "The Wonder Years," was an inspired choice to play the coach.

"It was perfect because you don't think a guy like that would be a molester," Hoatson said. "But they often are."

The episode hits on themes that have popped up as the Oliva and Lorch cases have unfolded over the years. The "L&O" detectives, trying to find other victims, find that male survivors of sexual assault are not only reluctant to talk about their experiences but often become angry and even violent when somebody brings them up.

The episode also showed how much power coaches have over their players: The coach played by Lauria can dangle everything from sneakers to college scholarships over kids' heads to get them to do what they want.

"Kids want to be like the heroes they see on 'Sports Center,' and they want to learn what coaches can teach them," says Chris Gavagan, a Brooklyn filmmaker who is working on a documentary called "Coached into Silence," about the abuse he says he suffered at the hands of his roller hockey coach.