Editor's Note: This story contains graphic subject matter that may be upsetting to some readers.
Long before revelations that former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky had allegedly sexually abused a number of at-risk youth, another high-profile predator used the cover of athletics to molest young boys.
Between 1971 and 1991, Donald Fitzpatrick, a long-time Red Sox clubhouse manager, systematically molested and abused nearly a dozen African-American boys in their hometown of Winter Haven, Florida, where the baseball team held their Spring training.
"He grabbed me and told me to take my clothes off," Leeronnie Ogletree, who said Fitzpatrick lured him into years of molestation when he was just 10, told thepostgame.com. "I'll never forget him putting his mouth on my penis. I don't mind telling it now because I'm over it. But that stands out. And I'll never forget it."
It took decades for the truth to come out about Fitzpatrick, who is white, and his criminal desire for young black boys. In 2003 the Boston Red Sox settled a $3.15 million federal lawsuit brought against them by Ogletree and seven other men from Winter Haven who said Fitzpatrick repeatedly molested them as boys.
Benjamin Crump, the lawyer who handled Ogletree’s case against Fitzpatrick and the Boston Red Sox, said the similarities between the Penn State and Red Sox scandals are startlingly similar. There were cover-ups, denials and the enabling of pedophiles to use the power of their institutions to prey on the weak, in the Red Sox case, "poor black boys," he said. The kinds of youth often considered society's "throwaways."
"You have these sports institutions; you have all these people of authority; you have all this public support for these institutions and hear talk about what great institutions they are, but then when you ask them to do the right thing and have compassion for these young people, the institutions deny, deny, deny," said Crump, of Parks & Crump. "They sweep it under the rug and they look the other way."
According to reports, former Red Sox players such as Jim Rice and Sammy Stewart got wind of Fitzpatrick's deeds and would warn kids in the clubhouse to avoid him. In 1971, one of Fitzpatrick's victims came forward to the team, and in a manner similar to Penn State's handling of the Sandusky allegations, the team did not alert authorities or fire Fitzpatrick.
But supporters for Ogletree and the other men who settled in the case, who have become known as the Winter Haven seven, wonder how race and class might have played in the team's inaction once they got a whiff of what Fitzpatrick might have been up to.
"These kids came from impoverished backgrounds and many times, no father. Fitzpatrick used that to his advantage and preyed on these kids that were poor," Crump said. "The one thing that I do think is not similar to the Penn State situation is that with the Boston Red Sox case, they had 11 kids and they were all black, almost as if they wouldn't let this happen to little white boys."
It wasn't until 1991, two decades later, that wheels of justice began to turn. Howard Bryant of ESPN.com, wrote that in '91, a young aide whom Fitzpatrick was suspected of recruiting showed up at a nationally televised Red Sox game with a sign that read "Don Fitzpatrick sexually assaulted me." The Red Sox paid out a $100,000 settlement, Bryant wrote. The $3.5 million settlement came years later.
The seven men who settled with the team and Fitzpatrick include Myron Birdsong, Terrance D. Birdsong, Walter Covington III, Eric Frazier Jr., Willie Earl Hollis, James A. Jackson and Ogletree.
In a recent story published on the website thepostgame.com, Ogletree recounted those days of his stolen youth. He remembers hearing the sounds of pitched baseballs smacking into gloves and the sounds of balls cracking off of bats. And eventually being lured in by Fitzpatrick.
"If you're a kid, you fall in love with the game of baseball," Ogletree said. "There's one-in-a-million chance of meeting a professional ballplayer, let alone working with them. If kids like something, and if you say you're going to take that away, they'll do anything to keep what's good to them. I know what happened to me at 10 years old."
"I was a good kid," Ogletree said. "I was raised right. The sentence I really got was a life sentence because of what I went through with the Red Sox."
Sometimes, Ogletree said, "I'm not sure who I am."
Crump, who has kept in touch with Ogletree's family, said that Ogletree and many of the others victimized by Fitzpatrick have never shaken the trauma of their assaults. Some have turned to drugs, he said. Others, like Ogletree, have battled with addiction and have had numerous stints in jail.
"It's one of those situations where once you steal a kid's innocence, they never ever get it back. And the question is, are they ever really going to be normal when something like that happens so traumatically at such an early age?" Crump said. "Their assaults color their feelings on mostly every issue in their lives, that's what we were dealing with. These guys never got right after that.”
In 2002 Fitzpatrick accepted a plea deal. He would serve no jail time, get a 10-year suspended sentence and 15 years of probation, according to reports.
Ogletree, who has battled the trauma brought on by the boyhood assaults, was in a mental institution when the multimillion dollar settlement was reached. He called Fitzpatrick's deal a "sweetheart deal."
But he has vowed never to let people forget what Fitzpatrick and others like him have stolen from innocent, vulnerable young people.
"I need to tell people my story," he said.
Below is statement reportedly released by the Boston Red Sox and reprinted on thepostgame.com:
Mr. Fitzpatrick served as the team's clubhouse manager from the 1960s until 1991, and the actions you have inquired about occurred between 1971 and 1991. When the team, then under a previous ownership group, became aware of the allegations against Mr. Fitzpatrick in 1991, he was promptly relieved of his duties. Civil litigation was filed in 2001 by victims of Mr. Fitzpatrick for actions that had occurred more than 20 years earlier. The team, which was acquired by the current ownership group after the lawsuit was filed, reached a settlement in 2002. Mr. Fitzpatrick has since passed away. The Red Sox have always viewed the actions of Mr. Fitzpatrick to be abhorrent.
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