BY SISSY WICKES
The icons are falling, the icons are falling- get out of the way. Jimmy Williams may be the first to fall, but he will not be the last. The Williams nightmare is an old story, hearsay cemented into fact through consistent and reliable repetition. When the silver cowboy hat quietly disappeared from the USEF Horseman of the Year ceremony, another brick was placed in the wall of truth. Rather than approach the issue of sexual impropriety head on, USEF chose to quietly retire the trophy and erase the name Jimmy Williams from an award. Innuendo and rumor galvanized into truth through the brave testimony of victims.
He did it.
Years later, the #MeToo movement sweeps the world. Like hot lava pouring from a volcano, it spreads from the hearts of the victims through the houses where the legends live. Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer- we can all name someone whose outing made us stop in our tracks and say, “What? Him?” Victims have found their voice with the assurance that their stories will be heard.
The image of the statue of Saddam Hussein toppling to the ground comes to mind. Who will be the next to come forward and say to the world, “This is what happened to me.” Yes, things were different years ago. There was a culture of silence, a twisted belief that violation was a rite of passage. If you put yourself under their gaze, if you wanted to benefit from their knowledge, you were fair game. Gay, straight, young, really young- we have all heard the rumors. While righting past wrongs is important- perhaps lifesaving for some- the real urgency lies in making sure it doesn’t happen again. Some enjoy the salacious stories of past crimes. But, let’s turn our attention to the present and the future by changing the culture of silence. Let’s arm our children with the strength to speak truth to power, to understand boundaries, to demand the world is a safe place for all.
#MeToo has rended the fabric of society, a small thread frayed and tugged into an unmendable tear. With each story comes a sense of sadness and moral outrage. Where do we as a community stand? Do we mandate action from our governing bodies? There is consensus about horse welfare. We spend millions of dollars researching Gaba and Depo which have no harmful effects on horses. None. We hand down life sentences for members convicted of harming horses. Where do we stand on those that harm children? How much money have we spent on that?
I am happy for the catharsis that revealing long hidden nightmares provides. But, are we protecting the children now? Taking down icons does not provide a barrier to new crimes of sexual misconduct. As a sport, as an industry, it is time to stand up and make real changes. As a person involved in governance, I assume the responsibility of making change. #MeToo is about horrors of the past. #NotInOurHouse is about what it really means to talk about clean sport. We need to talk less about quieting horses and more about protecting the most vulnerable in our sport: children.
Heroes are regenerative. Broken children are not.
About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist, an autism advocate and Editor of The Plaid Horse. Her illustrious resume includes extensive show hunter and jumper experience. She lives with her family in Unionville, PA and Wellington, FL.
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