Point of View: 'I am still standing': How soccer helped a sexual assault survivor on his healing journey

Graham Butcher, 62, is one of six new inductees into McGill’s Sports Hall of Fame. He is also a survivor of child sexual abuse.

Graham Butcher has worked for years to reclaim his life, power and voice, he says

Graham Butcher, 62, is being inducted into McGill's Sports Hall of Fame later this month. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

As an accomplished striker and later, an assistant coach on the men's soccer team, Graham Butcher has been a part of two McGill teams that won national championships. Those two teams have already been inducted into the McGill Sports Hall of Fame, but this year, he is being recognized individually as one of six 2019 inductees into the hall.

Reading my profile and seeing my picture on McGill's Hall of Fame induction website is so surreal. I'm still trying to process my emotions, to actually believe that this is truly happening for me.

I'm certainly very happy. I'm also in a state of disbelief. I feel like I am coming out of the shadows, so to speak.

I can tell you that my experience at McGill University literally saved my life. You see, I was one of those young soccer players that you read about in the papers who was abused by my coach and betrayed by a breach of trust so devastating that it wasn't until I was in my late 30s that I began to acknowledge that I had been living in denial.

I am a survivor of child sexual abuse by a soccer coach who was my idol, role model and had enormous power over my young life.

After decades of years of silence, I found myself asking hard questions to people from my childhood. To my shock and horror, I learned that my younger brother, my childhood teammates, my friends, my neighbours, boys and girls, were also sexually abused by this coach and teacher.

(Ed's Note: In 1999, Adrian Bennett, a youth soccer coach and elementary school teacher in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, was sentenced to six years in prison for having sexually abused eight children, including Butcher. Bennett had pleaded guilty to abusing the children, ages 12 to 17, during the 1970s).

Butcher, bottom row, fifth from the right, on his pee-wee soccer team in 1969, his first experience in organized sports. Bennett stands in the top row, far right. ‘Life was so simple back then,’ he says. ‘As a 12-year-old boy, I just wanted to have fun and play soccer.’ (Submitted by Graham Butcher)

I have learned that I am not responsible for what happened to me as a boy. However, I am responsible for how I choose to deal with it as a man, going forward. One of those responsibilities was to ensure that I find my voice and my courage to protect other innocent girls and boys by going to the police.

You cannot see my wounds and my injuries because they are invisible, but they are real. The lifetime devastation of sexual abuse has caused enormous damage. Every day is a battle to overcome the betrayal of trust.

Child sexual abuse is the murder of a child's soul. Until the courts learn this fact, we as a society will never fully understand the lifelong struggle and the long-term damage.

I have worked very hard over the years to reclaim my life, my power and my voice. Hard work with my therapist helped me to understand who I was. Therapy was rough, but it helped me make sense of all the insanity.

Butcher and Theo Fleury at the Chapters in Pointe-Claire, where Fleury was promoting his second book, Conversations with a Rattlesnake. (Submitted by Graham Butcher)

My life and healing journey has never been easy. When I look back today, I'm just so proud and amazed that I fought through so much.

Today, I am happy to be… anywhere, really!

I have the unique honour of being the first individual in McGill sports history to have won a national championship both as a coach and as a player, and now I am being inducted individually.

Champion coaches and athletes will tell you that, "In the heat of battle we bend, but we do not break!" I did not break. I am still standing. I have a second chance to live my life, free from the darkness of child sexual abuse.

Thank you to fellow athletes Greg Gilhooly, Theo Fleury, Todd Holt and Sheldon Kennedy for courageously telling your life stories. These survivors and heroes have been helpful in my healing journey.

Graham Butcher on the field in 1982. (McGill)

Playing and coaching soccer at McGill have been the most profoundly rewarding sports experiences of my life. It is my hope that my induction into the hall of fame is an opportunity to advocate for the prevention of child sexual abuse and to raise awareness about the issue.

In the nine years of having been involved with McGill University soccer as a player and an assistant coach, two other soccer players have since shared with me their own child sexual abuse stories. I'm very grateful that they trusted me enough to do that. I told them that if they ever needed someone to talk to, I would be there for them. We are brothers forever. We are all McGill soccer brothers forever.

What I have learned about courage, perseverance and trust by being a member of the McGill soccer team has sustained me through everything. I am eternally and profoundly grateful.

The induction luncheon is Wednesday, Sept. 25, at the Windsor Ballroom on Peel Street, and will take place as part of homecoming celebrations.

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Graham Butcher has been a part of two McGill teams that won national championships. Those teams have already been inducted into the McGill Sports Hall of Fame, but this year he is being recognized individually.