Brian Reed did something I never had the guts to do.
He wrote a rebuttal to an obituary.
It was not something Reed did because he was vengeful or bitter. He did it because the front-page obituary of Jack Raymond in the Jan. 7 edition of The Miles City Star was grossly incomplete.
The banner headline read, “Jack Raymond remembered as mentor, friend.”
That might be how a lot of people remember the former wrestling coach at Custer County High School in Miles City, or at least how they choose to remember him.
The unknown number of men who were sexually assaulted by the school’s former athletic trainer, however, will recall Raymond as a man who, at best, did nothing to protect them from the Boogeyman.
By his own admission, James “Doc” Jensen sexually assaulted hundreds of student-athletes. If you have not read the details of the case, do yourself a favor and do not.
In court depositions, Raymond admitted he saw Jensen inappropriately touch student-athletes, yet he stayed silent, allowing the monster to prey on young men for more than two decades.
Now, nobody would expect the family to write an obit about a person and remember all of his bad qualities. This, however, was a supposed news piece, and it only told half of the story.
Reed, a 1995 graduate of Custer County High School, was one of 32 former Miles City athletes who were brave enough to speak out and join a 2018 civil lawsuit against the Miles City Unified School District.
Their lawsuit eventually led to Jensen’s arrest, and he will now most likely die behind bars.
“We know that for every one of us, there were five or 10 people who weren’t (part of the lawsuit),” Reed said. “There were enough who (signed onto the lawsuit) to give it attention. If all the people who could have signed would have signed, maybe we wouldn’t have the collective amnesia that Miles City has.”
Nobody can blame the men who did not come forward, though. Can you imagine telling the world that Jensen did those unspeakable things to you?
People will ask you, “Why didn’t you come forward sooner?” Or, “Why didn’t you just kick his ass?”
The truth is much more complicated than that. Fortunately, Reed is not afraid to tell the truth. The brutal, honest truth.
In the Jensen case, that truth is horrific.
“The things that happened to me weren’t as bad as what happened to some of the athletes,” Reed said. “I was lucky.”
Reed is so honest, and ruthlessly to the point, that he has a hard time being heard. He is blocked by countless email and Facebook accounts.
As historian of Montana Class A football, Brian has worked tirelessly to compile an accurate list of football stats and records. His unapologetic obsession with accuracy has led him to run afoul with the Montana High School Association and some lazy sports reporters around the state. He is not afraid to tell someone when he or she is wrong.
Assuming the artfully articulate Reed is just a disgruntled former Cowboy, though, would be a mistake.
It would also be a mistake to dismiss his letter, which is precisely what the publisher of the Star did. The paper would not run the rebuttal that was remarkably civil considering the circumstances.
Without the paper on board, Reed posted his letter on the chat site MilesCity.com under the title, “Remember Raymond for everything he was.” (Read it here)
Here is, in part, what Reed wrote:
“Raymond may be, in fact, the most accomplished and credentialed wrestling coach Miles City has ever had. Indeed, he may be ‘remembered as a great mentor, friend, father and husband.’ He very well may have ‘touched a lot of people’s hearts with everything he did,’ or ‘got the most out of you’ by showing ‘tough love,’ as was stated in the well-written story about him on Friday.
“As accurate as those very positive things may be, here’s what else Raymond was: a child-rape enabler, a sadist, and ultimately, a coward. All of these are equally true and just as worthy of inclusion in the remembrance of that man’s life, if not more so.”
This is not a letter trashing Raymond’s coaching style that got him fired — before he was ultimately re-hired — in the early 1990s. This is not a grudge about playing time.
This is about sexual assault that should have never been allowed to happen.
If it were not for Raymond and a handful of other former Miles City educators, coaches and administrators, Jensen’s number of victims would have been much, much smaller.
Fewer lives would have been shattered, and the predator would have been in prison decades earlier. It really is that simple.
The school district heard enough complaints from parents and athletes about Jensen that it actually drafted a memo in 1997 that basically said, “Hey Jim, stop molesting the kids.” (Read the memo here)
Yet, Jensen was still allowed to work with and prey on the students for a couple of more years.
Nobody, not even Reed, called for Raymond or the other enablers to be locked up for their silence. He just asked for some accountability and, maybe, an apology.
Instead, Miles City tried to immortalize the late coach.
The high school recently added Raymond’s name to the Outstanding Wrestler Award at the long-standing Cowboy Invitational.
“It’s insulting,” said Reed, whose uncle once won the prestigious award. “When you prop these people up as heroes, you set it up for things to happen again. That’s a nightmare scenario for me.
“The people who should care the most seem to think, ‘He’s in jail, we can forget about it.’ (Jensen) didn’t happen in a vacuum. A lot of people wish it would have.”
The 32 men who sued the school district settled the lawsuit for $9 million in 2019. After legal fees, that amounted to $188,000 per victim that came forward.
“We stopped short, and we didn’t get the one thing I wanted,” Reed said. “That was accountability.”
Reed said the lawsuit was never about the money, which seems incredibly inadequate considering what the men endured, and still must be enduring.
“I didn’t want a cent,” he said. “I don’t think anybody who joined the lawsuit wanted a cent. They wanted to be heard. We were successful in the lawsuit, but in a lot of ways it was a very incomplete victory.
“My whole goal was to hold the people accountable. These people need to have some accountability. That never happened.”
In fact, some of those who escaped the burden of accountability went on to thrive.
Former Custer County High School principal Fred Anderson left Miles City for a job in Great Falls. Then a man who students say ignored repeated reports of Jensen’s molestation was elected to the Montana legislature.
Anderson also signed that 1997 memo, which acknowledges he knew something was up.
“He was up for re-election when this all hit,” Reed said of Anderson. “It didn’t hurt his re-election at all.”
It was bad enough that the enablers could not look the 32 men in the eyes and apologize. It is even worse when the school and newspaper try to paint a rosy story and pretend nothing happened.
Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was beloved by many. His family and friends adored him. He won a lot of football games and made a lasting, positive impact on thousands of athletes.
He was a great husband, father and grandfather.
But the first paragraph of Paterno’s obituary mentioned Jerry Sandusky.
That is because you cannot whitewash history, and denial has never been a healthy path forward.
True closure comes from the truth and culpability. There seems to be a major shortage of both of those in Miles City, where, sadly, the enabling carries on after death.
Fortunately, Brian Reed was there to offer a rebuttal.
Someday, Miles City might thank him for that.
— Bill Foley writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.