March 1, 2013
By Jeff Seidel | Detroit Free Press Columnist
The world is full of heroes and monsters and victims. And sometimes, something magical takes place. A victim can grow up to be a hero.
Oakland University women's basketball coach Beckie Francis said she was sexually abused from the time she was 4 until she was about 13. The monster was her father, now deceased.
Francis spent years in denial ‑ confused, embarrassed, ashamed, scared, angry ‑ and poured herself into sports. “Sports saved me,” she said.
She went through six therapists until she found the right one. “For me, it was years and years and years and years of pain that I had to cry out,” Francis said.
She started healing, taking baby steps, overcoming the shame and fear and breaking the silence.
Finding the courage to tell.
About 15 years ago, Francis told Heidi Grunwald, her best friend since kindergarten. They grew up together in Germantown, N.Y.
“When she told me, everything in our lives together made sense,” said Grunwald, who has a doctorate in education from Michigan and works at the law school at Temple University. “Everyone knew something wasn’t right.”
In the fall of 2009, Francis told her team in the locker room. “She was very emotional when she first told us,” said Victoria Lipscomb, a junior guard. “She definitely shed a few tears.”
Two years ago, Francis shared her story in her church, giving a 90-second testimony. For seven straight services. “It was so hard,” Francis said, “but so good.”
After every service, people stayed after and lined up to talk to her. To tell her that they, too, had been abused. “They said, ‘You are the first person I’ve told,’” Francis said. “It happens all the time.”
Last fall, she told her story to Detroit-based Larry Lage of the Associated Press. And suddenly her story went national.
Over the last few months, Francis has evolved into a passionate, driven activist, using her position to raise awareness. She threw her support behind Erin’s Law, bipartisan legislation that would allow schools to educate students about sexual abuse.
In December, she testified before the Michigan House Education Committee. “That was the scariest thing I've ever done,” she said. “It was like I was a little girl and I was telling for the first time.”
But the bill didn't go anywhere.
During the lame-duck session, on her team’s off day, Francis returned to Lansing. She stood in the Michigan State Capitol and talked to representatives in the lobby, one by one, giving them 90-second spiels. “I was told no three times that day,” she said. “I burst out into tears. But I’m, like, I’m not giving up.”
Late that night, the bill passed.
Sen. John Proos, the lead sponsor, said that Francis played a critical role in getting the legislation passed: “There is no greater testimony than that of personal triumph over unbelievably tragic and horrific situations.”
Francis also has tried to educate her players. She took her team to visit CARE House of Oakland County, a wonderful place with therapists and counselors who help children who have been abused.
“When I took a tour, it was almost like I went back to being 6 or 7 years old,” Francis said. “If I had a place like CARE House, I so would have told.”
Through this journey, Francis has taught her players far more than basketball. She has taught them to speak up. To battle demons. To take a stand. To make a difference.
“Her confidence level has soared,” Lipscomb said. “She isn’t afraid anymore.”
At the NCAA Women’s Final Four in New Orleans in April, Francis will be given the U.S. Basketball Writers Association’s Pat Summit Most Courageous Award. “I’m so humbled,” Francis said.
Once a victim. Now a hero. Trying to save kids from the monsters.
Contact Jeff Seidel: 313-223-4558 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg at 3/01/2013
Not To Give Up
Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg