On Saturday I read this article about Penn State Athletics. It gave me that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. If you haven’t seen much about the story, I’ll just let you read it for yourself. And I predict you will get that sick feeling too.
I read the article while I was watching the Mississippi State homecoming football game on television with my boys. You see, I have boys. Two of them. And they’re just learning about football and what a college is and which team is the Bulldogs. The article made me spontaneously hug and kiss them, which they have sort of come to expect from their Mommy. So, it was no big deal for them. For me, it kept me awake that night.
Most of my kids’ enjoyment of football games consists of spotting “Bully,” the Mississippi State mascot somewhere in the televised coverage. Admittedly, the homecoming game didn’t have the same audience appeal as the Thomas the Tank Engine story they had concocted and were playing out on the living room floor. Still, we were watching football. And somewhere between the television ad spots proclaiming how college football in the South is part of the year-long cultural fabric and Emmitt Smith selling his favorite tailgating products, I saw the Penn State story.
I couldn’t help but think about what I can only assume is the incredible pull of legend. As college football legends go, I suppose Joe Paterno’s Penn State program is as legendary as they come. It’s a legend you want to follow — to appreciate, to see win. It’s a legend you’d like to see untarnished.
Was that the motivation behind the complete lack of human-ness displayed in this story by so many grown men? Were they thinking of their own individual jobs? The bad publicity? The loss of sponsorship and conference dollars from television broadcasts? From my couch, I imagine that it was all of the above.
For the first eyewitness to this horrific situation, I can imagine some combination of shock and fear prevailed. I would hope that for athletic staff and university administration, the first thoughts WEREN’T the horrific experience of a football program. But, as the story played out through the sequence of events described, it appears that is the exact horrific experience that was at the forefront of their minds.
Something is amiss in legend-making. In legend-keeping. Shock and fear are certainly relevant emotions. But, what else happened while a witness mulled over his next actions? What else happened while the powers-that-be slowly formulated a crisis-management strategy. On that night, a young boy was left at the mercy of what appearances and indictment language tell us is a sexual predator. A young boy was left with no defense against unspeakable acts. And statistics tell us that for victims they ARE unspeakable. The shame and fear and long-term emotional effects of such experiences are difficult to express and therefore, very often go unexpressed. And let’s not forget that silence is one of the most powerful weapons a predator uses to protect himself and allow his pattern of abuse to continue. Yes, the acts were unspeakable.
Sadly, for the grown men in this situation, the events were apparently unspeakable as well — at least outside of the closed doors of a college football legend. What kept me up on Saturday night: The questions. What else happened? What further humiliation was the boy (a boy like mine) subjected to by such a key figure in this football legend? What was the look in his eyes? How did he get home? Did he have a home? Was he subjected to other meetings with this predator? Did he have someone who could help his young mind and soul cope with this life-changing experience? Wouldn’t he be about college-age by now?
On Sunday I read an article about the indictment of Jerry Sandusky. Apparently the language from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office specified that Coach Joe Paterno acted appropriately and was absolved of any wrong-doing. It indicated he would likely testify for the prosecution in the case. I was happy to read that caveat to the story. I, like many others, enjoy the mystique of Saturday afternoons in Autumn. I admire winners. I want to see a storied figure maintain his legacy. The legend of Penn State football can remain somewhat intact.
Good. But, what of the boy?