Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. (Luke 17:1-2)
For the last few days, I’ve wanted to write regarding the situation at Penn State University. Easier said than done. A lot of writers, far better than I and with far more information and insight, have written about it. I won’t attempt to duplicate their work — I just have a few things that have been sitting on my chest, and that I want to get off. Forgive me if this comes out as a jumble, but my mind is a jumble when it comes to this, so bear with me …
* I wonder what goes through a man’s mind when he is walking through a locker room, sees a pre-adolescent boy being sodomized by someone old enough to be his grandfather, and then sneaks quietly away and does nothing except report it to his supervisor. I’m something of a physical coward, and not too coordinated besides, but if I were to come upon a situation like that, my first instinct is not to steal away and hope I’m not noticed. It’s to shout at the top of my lungs, “HEY! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING? LEAVE THAT KID ALONE!” My second instinct is to run at the assaulter and start flailing away. Mind, I’d probably get beat up, but hopefully it would give the kid time to run away. And then I go to the cops.
Call me crazy, but silently slinking off and hoping someone else deals with it just doesn’t come up on my list of logical solutions.
I know Mike McQueary was just a graduate assistant, and Jerry Sandusky was a former defensive coordinator and a pillar of the Nittany Lions community. There’s a possibility McQueary was fearful of losing his job and perhaps his future prospects in college football. If that’s the case, all I can say is that I hope he really enjoys his career, because he sold his soul for it.
* Apparently Bob Costas did a telephone interview with Sandusky, where the latter claims he only took showers with the boys under his charge and “horsed around.” I made a point of not listening to it, or any excerpts from it, as I try to avoid things that will cause me to fly into a rage. Mr. Sandusky, with all due respect (i.e., no respect at all), you are going up before a grand jury on 40 counts of sexual assault against eight different kids. This doesn’t happen based on some guesses and hearsay — I’ve known people who served on grand juries, and it takes a good amount of strong evidence to even get an indictment handed down. Do you honestly expect anyone to believe your newly-minted cock-and-bull story?
For that matter, what in blazes is a 60-year-old man doing even showering with 10-year-olds?! ? If you knew someone who was doing that, wouldn’t you find it more than a little suspicious?
If I were Sandusky’s friend, I think the best thing I could do for him would be to give him a razor blade and a diagram showing the location of his carotid artery. Because as bad as that might be, what is likely to happen to him in prison is almost assuredly worse.
* And in case you still have some doubt as to Sandusky’s guilt, I invite you to read this excerpt from the latest column by ESPN.com’s Gregg Easterbrook, a man I greatly respect for his intelligence and insight:
Regarding Penn State, in advertising that aired during the Penn State-Nebraska contest on Saturday, Rodney Erickson, the university’s interim president, began by declaring, “My heart goes out to those who have been victimized.”
Wait — how does Penn State know there are victims? A retired Penn State football coach is accused of pedophilia, while fired Penn State officials are accused of perjury and failing to report child abuse. Arrests aren’t proof, and accusations may be false; whether the alleged crimes occurred must be decided by a judge or jury. The legal system has not yet determined if in this case there exists a group of “those who have been victimized.”
Yet the school’s interim president spoke of child molestation at Penn State as factually established. So what does Penn State know that it is not telling? If Penn State already knows there are in fact victims, this scandal is even worse.
Erickson’s “those who have been victimized” statement makes sense only if the college was in possession of proof of child molestation well before the moment, about 10 days ago, when the grand jury presentment was unsealed and arrests occurred. The presentment and the arrests in and of themselves prove nothing, while Penn State could not possibly have gotten to the full truth of the matter in just 10 days. So if Penn State already knows children have been “victimized,” the cover-up is worse than assumed. And if Penn State already knows children were victimized, then the Penn State interim president went on television to ask for the nation’s sympathy, yet is not disclosing everything he knows about the school’s involvement.
* If there is any good that can come out of this (and that’s a big and very debatable “if”), it is that a message has been sent to the world: there are some situations where common human decency prevents you from being an innocent bystander.
I know Pennsylvania is not one of the states that requires people who witness a crime to report it. Frankly, a law to cover that shouldn’t be necessary. If you know that somebody has committed a murder, a rape, a molestation or anything of that sort, you owe it to your conscience, to the victims and their families, and to society to say something. Think of how you’d feel if it had been your kid that had caught Jerry Sandusky’s eye, what you would think of a person who knew your son was being traumatized like that, but said nothing. Don’t be that person.
Unfortunately, it looks like several key figures at Penn State were that person — men who knew something was going on, or had enough clues to make a guess, and yet didn’t take steps to stop it.
* At which point I think it’s fair to ask why they didn’t. And one very distressing possibility looms as to why — not surprising, just distressing. Money.
According to one source I’ve seen, Pennsylvania State University’s football program brings in about $70 million per year. $70 million is about what the president of the United States would pull in if he served for 175 years. It’s more money than you or I will see in our lifetimes. That’s a heck of a cash cow.
And at Penn State, like many schools with big-time football programs, it’s become a sacred cow as well.
More and more, I’ve been realizing that on many college campuses, the football team is the tail that wags the dog. Millions of dollars in donations get poured into football, while academic programs at these academic institutions are often neglected. Many athletes end up coming to campuses — on full scholarships, as many as 85 per year — who have no desire to get an education, are not pressed to get one, and leave after four years without graduating. Some even commit crimes, which are covered up for the sake of keeping them eligible for football. And of course there are the millions being paid to football coaches and their 20-man staffs, while assistant professors, actual teachers, get a pittance.
There have been lots of arguments about how football players, since they work for the university, should receive compensation for their work. But I wonder why institutions of higher learning are in the football business in the first place. If someone wants to get an education but lacks the funds, they have the option of studying hard, getting good grades, earning academic scholarships, and applying for student loans and grants. (That’s what I did. Got my degree too, cum laude.) If they want to learn football, there are plenty of semi-pro teams out there, and there’s no reason the NFL can’t support minor leagues like Major League Baseball, the NHL and (to a much lesser extent) the NBA do. Where is it written that colleges should take in kids who have no interest in learning anything but football, hire staffs that have little interest in anything but football, and serve as the NFL’s minor league?
So who do colleges use so much of their resources on football? Because it makes money. Why are some athletes allowed to skip classes, have others take their tests, perform illegal acts? Because football makes money. And why was a potential scandal involving little children being molested on campus by a former employee of the football program, one that some people in very high places in the university apparently knew about, quietly covered up?
Well, I don’t know for sure. But I can make a guess.
* The thing with a betrayal of trust like this is that it will have far-reaching effects, well beyond what one can usually imagine.
I mentioned earlier that many better writers than I are tackling the Penn State scandal as it unfolds. One of them, Michael Weinreb, writes for the Grantland website. Michael’s dad works (or worked; I’m not sure) for Penn State; he grew up in State College and went to school with kids named Paterno. One of the things he’s dealing with is the shattering of his own childhood recollections, the recasting of his memories of seemingly idyllic Happy Valley into newer, darker forms. I can’t really do his work, or his hurt, justice; it’s here and here if you want to read it for yourself.
But the repercussions aren’t limited to central Pennsylvania. My wife, as you may know, has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), a progressive degeneration of the nerve endings in her extremities. The largest center for the study of CMT is at — wait for it — Penn State. So the CMT Association, which is also based in State College, PA, is having to deal with the fallout from this scandal as well — not because it’s in any way involved, but because it’s in the same blast radius and people are asking questions. Because Nina is a facilitator for a newly-forming CMT support group, she’s on the head office’s e-mail list, and recently received their official statement on the matter, one which according to her said a whole lot of nothing. Who knows what effect this will have on the study of that disease — or on any of the thousand other things that Penn State does besides suit up kids in plastic armor and have them run into each other.
* Finally, I admit that this is a sensitive area for me. Because I’ve seen, firsthand and secondhand, how a betrayal of trust like this can damage people.
See, I was an abused child. Physically and emotionally, not sexually (and for that last, I’m thankful), at the hands of my dad. I’ll spare you the details — and even to this day, I’m sure I’ve blocked a lot of them out. It took me until I was over 30 before I could even begin to grasp the extent of the damage he did to me, and I will likely spend the rest of my life working on undoing it. Every day, I have to deal with the lingering effects of his abuse. Every day, I have to do everything in my power to make sure I pass as little of it as possible onto my kids (and every day, I worry about precisely that). God has helped me a lot in dealing with what happened, in forgiving my father, in changing my behavior to not be like his. But it’s not a complete healing, and this side of Heaven, it probably never will be.
Further, I’ve known people who have been sexually abused, and if anything, the scars that leaves are even worse. One lady I know is still working to untie the knots left in her soul by a single act of sexual abuse, committed a quarter-century ago. Nor is that kind of pain even remotely unusual.
What has been done to those kids in Pennsylvania, barring miracles, will negatively affect them for the rest of their lives. There’s no getting around that. There’s no making excuses for that. There’ s no covering it up and pretending it didn’t happen. And there is no apology, no statement to the press, no resignation, no firing, no lawsuit, no jail term, that will undo the damage, or take away the pain.
Randy Stonehill once put out a song about people like Jerry Sandusky and those that enabled him to continue in his crimes. It’s called “Can Hell Burn Hot Enough?” At times like this, I know exactly what Uncle Rand meant.