Truth Wins: Hastert’s Takedown Proves He Can’t Escape His Sexual Assault of Minors

High school wrestling is a time when boys build a bond with their coaches. As a coach at Yorkville High School, Dennis Hastert committed crimes against the athletes who trusted him and he was sentenced to prison for a botched coverup.

For former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, what ultimately mattered was not a flaw but a crime. His sentencing in federal court Wednesday and his admission is a victory of truth over rhetoric.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin sentenced the disgraced 74-year-old former top ranking U.S. official and former high school wrestling coach to 15 months in prison, a $250,000 fine, two years of supervised release and mandatory sex offender treatment.

Before sentencing, Durkin asked Hastert in court if he sexually abused these young men.

“Yes,” Hastert replied.

“I am deeply ashamed to be standing here today,” Hastert said. “I know I am here because I mistreated some of my athletes that I coached… I want to apologize to the boys I mistreated. I was wrong and I accept that.”

Mistreated?

Hastert’s repentance is for alleged sexual abuse involving five minors as a wrestling coach at Yorkville High School in Illinois years before he ever reached Capitol Hill. In court, Hastert admitted to crimes he tried to deny, paid to silence and vehemently denied.

Supervision and treatment are the next steps for Hastert who pleaded guilty in October of illegally structuring bank withdrawals after he admitted that he agreed to pay one former victim, known as Individual A, $3.5 million in cash for his silence.

The dramatic sentencing hearing involved the testimony of another previously unnamed victim, known in documents only as Individual D, now testifying under his real name of Scott Cross.

Cross claimed Hastert repeatedly abused him when he was a 17-year-old wrestler on the Yorkville wrestling team in 1979 and Hastert was his coach.

Individual A, who did not testify, filed a $1.8 million law suit earlier this week for breach of contract on a $3.5 million agreement Hastert made in exchange for the man keeping the secret, one that he and Cross both shared.

“I’ve always felt that what Coach Hastert had done to me was my darkest secret,” Cross said in court.

“I wanted you to know the pain and suffering he caused me then and still causes me today. Most importantly, I want my children and anyone else who was ever treated the way I was that there is an alternative to staying in silence.”

The words of Cross and those of Jolene Burdge, testifying on behalf of her late brother, Stephen Reinboldt, who claimed before his death in 1995 that Hastert abused him repeatedly while he was the wrestling equipment manager, precipitated Hastert’s reckoning.

“I always wonder if you’re sorry for what you did or if you’re sorry you got caught,” Burdge told the judge regarding Hastert.

Now A + D add up to justice for the man who was once second in line to the presidency.

The two testimonials prevailed over the earlier mighty rhetoric of Hastert’s powerful colleagues, allies and family in the form of 60 letters written recently to support Hastert in the hope to lighten his sentencing to probation.

More than 40 of those letters were made public, one of them notably written by Tom DeLay, former Republican U.S. House Majority leader, who stepped down in 2006 after his own indictment.

“We all have our flaws, but Dennis Hastert has very few,” wrote DeLay, himself convicted and sentenced to three years in prison for a money laundering scandal.

The level of hypocrisy is sickening.

According to a 2015 news story, DeLay was outraged by the U.S. Supreme Court considering the legality of same sex marriage, and he spewed on “The Steve Malzberg Show” on Newsmax TV: “We’ve … found a secret memo coming out of the Justice Department. They’re now going to go after 12 new perversions. Things like bestiality, polygamy, having sex with little boys and making that legal,” DeLay said on the show.

As the mother of three sons who all wrestled in youth wrestling programs and throughout high school, I read Cross’ testimony as if his experience could have been one of my own sons, or any of the young men on any wrestling team I came to know from my view in the stands.

While my own sons experienced stellar role models of coaches who enhanced their lives with positive lessons, I can only see such heinous acts as described by Hastert’s former wrestlers as a betrayal of a deep bond between coach and student.

My sons were so profoundly influenced by the man who was their wrestling coach at Oak Park-River Forest High School, Coach Mike Powell, that he is a huge part of my latest book, “Escape Points.”

I understand from what I witnessed in my own home, that the trust a vulnerable, young athlete creates for a coach is sacred. In my sons’ cases, that trust was well-deserved, and earned. And for millions of athletes, that trust is respected.

But in the case of the young men who wrestled for Yorkville High School and for Hastert, that trust was mutilated. It is difficult for me to detach emotionally from the fallout caused by crimes of a coach who physically, emotionally and permanently chose to violate athletes on his team.

In the sport of wrestling, as many may know, you earn an escape point in a match for getting out of a hold. You can win the entire match that way. It’s a good metaphor for life.

But Hastert cannot escape his crimes, and he will not. What he has done in his life since those betrayals cannot ever erase the impact he has had on those men’s lives. They cannot reclaim lost years and suffering.

In a dissertation published in 2016, “Sexual Abuse of Male Children in Sports: Factors Impacting Disclosure,” author Matthew Love writes that sports teams are high risk environments for child sexual abuse. Male survivors have concerns of “masculinity and homophobia,” and that behaviors that in other situations would be considered to be crossing boundaries, are accepted in the sports culture.

Statements in court as well as the recently released sentencing memorandum from the young men on the wrestling team confirm that Hastert set up a recliner to watch the young men shower. This is eerily familiar to the anecdotes of showering with young athletes in the case of Jerry Sandusky, former Pennsylvania State football coach and now convicted serial child molester.

Illinois High School Association records show that Hastert was a highly successful coach who motivated his teams to titles and place finishes at the state tournament until he left for the Illinois state house in 1980. He won a coveted state championship in 1976 when he was named Illinois Coach of the Year.

But as a human being, I say Hastert is a loser.

Even as now he admits to the truth and is headed to prison, nothing can remove the effects he had on these men, when they were merely boys. The sexual, physical or emotional abuse of any man, woman or child is not a flaw. It is crime.

For Hastert, perhaps justice is served. Perhaps it never can be.

But in this latest match — likely the toughest Hastert will ever face — truth wins.

Hastert got pinned.

Michele Weldon will read from Escape Points at the Evanston Literary Festival and Printers Row Lit Fest.
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