Even though I didn’t reference Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno and Penn State in the title, I’m sure it’s no shock what this blog post is about.
First, as to the child abuse. Even a quick read of the grand jury presentment shows what we all know: child abuse thrives where there is secrecy and shame. Regardless of the cause of the secrecy (here, it’s pretty obvious– no one wanted to damage the high holy of Penn State, its football program), child abuse can’t continue as long as good people fail to shine a light on what is happening. For whatever reason, multiple people saw Sandusky abusing these precious children. And not a single one stood up and said NO— this is wrong. One adult man even saw a rape in progress, and instead of calling police or trying to intervene, he called his daddy and then his coach.
Why is that? Is that only because of the control the football program had over Penn State? I know that’s part of the story here, but there is story after story of systematic child abuse that got ignored. People see what is happening, but don’t want to get involved. I wish we knew why, so we could change it. The Jerry Sanduskys of the world know that good people are paralyzed by the shame of child abuse, and they depend on that and thrive on the silence.
Right now, even though I have no reason why people consistently refuse to stand up for the victims, the only answer I have is my new mantra– We must shine a light on child abuse. It cannot continue to be a taboo topic. We can’t shut our eyes to what happened. We have to read the facts and take them in. We can’t say it’s too hard and too dirty. And, sadly, part of this means more victims must stand up and be counted. There is an understandable taboo against naming the victims. But I so wish more victims would step up and be counted. These are real, living breathing people, and until we see more of the actual victims in public demanding justice, demanding to be counted, child abuse will stay in the dark. I don’t say this to add to any victim’s shame. It’s an understandably personal decision, and once it’s made it can’t be reversed. But until we as a society have to look these victims in the eyes and explain why we didn’t do more, no one will do more.
Now on to cults of personality and accountability. A lot has been written on the cult of Joe Paterno in Happy Valley and how that contributed to this mess. I have no doubts about the truth of those musings. My only addition to the discussion is something that occurred to me as I read Joe Paterno’s “retirement” statement last night, and then saw the Board of Trustees’ utter smackdown of his attempt to stay out the season and leave on his own terms. I will admit that I’ve always had a great deal of admiration for Joe Paterno and the program he built. But when I read that statement, all I could think was, wow. This guy thinks he is accountable to no one. He has been at the center of the Penn State cult of personality for so long that he still thinks he can dictate the story here. He couldn’t, and the Board of Trustees showed him that. No matter how big and important we think we are, we are going to ultimately be accountable. It may be delayed, it may not be enough (it certainly isn’t here, at least for Jerry Sandusky’s victims), but some sort of accountability always comes. No one is above it.
I’m not the praying sort, but in all of this noise, let us not forget all of Jerry Sandusky’s victims. The children assaulted. Their families. And his own family and loved ones, who now have to publicly deal with the repercussions of one depraved man’s actions. Peace to them all.