Penn State Child Sex Abuse Scandal: My Thoughts
First, please note my title. Referring to recent events at Penn State as a “sex scandal” is miss-leading; as it is commonly used, “sex” refers to consensual sex acts between adults – the qualifiers “illicit”, “extra-marital”, “abuse”, etc. are used in conjunction with the word precisely because “sex” on its own refers merely to consensual intercourse. What Jerry Sandusky did to cause a scandal at Penn State was not just “sex”, it was sexual child abuse and, in some cases, it was rape. I am particular about this wording, because I think that people should be able to call this exactly what it is and not shy away from uncomfortable phraseology.
Second, I should note that rape and sex abuse issues are particularly important to me. Sophomore year at Dickinson College, I, along with my then-roommate and good friend Dwight, took a 60-hour course at the YWCA to become rape crisis counselors. After completing the course, Dwight Richardson and I took bi-monthly overnight on-call shifts on the rape crisis hotline; we had beepers and everything. Both of us received calls from victims at various points during the spring semester, and I think I am speaking for both of us, when I say that sexual assault has been an emotional subject ever since.
So, even though I initially envisioned a thoughtful and balanced piece about the discomfort we all face when discussing the sexual abuse of children, and the societal factors that kept this particular incident hushed, the more I read and watched, the angrier I became. At this moment, I am doing everything I can to refrain from pounding out a profanity-laden tirade (also, I knew such a rant would be pointless, because I could never say it as well as Jim Rome). The tipping point for me was a video of Paterno, all smiles, greeting protestors outside his own home Wednesday night. A choice quote from JoePa from the impromptu press conference:
“The kids who were victims or whatever they want to say, I think we all ought to say a prayer for them. It’s a tough life when people do certain things to you. But anyway, you’ve been great. Everything’s great, alright.”
Deadspin suggested that these insensitive remarks were the result of legal advice from Paterno’s attorneys, which may be the case, but Paterno is not on trial by the court of public opinion for poorly spoken words; he is on trial for taking minimal effort to report or investigate claims by a trusted aide that Jerry Sandusky had sexually abused a young boy in the PSU locker room (whether McQueary reported “horsing around” or actual anal intercourse is a controversial matter, as a number of the linked articles explain). Paterno’s smiling and the cavalier comments he made to supporters outside his home were just icing on this ancient, disgusting cake.
I am glad to see that Penn State is now responding to the plight of the victims in this infuriating, tragic chain of events, by firing Paterno and University President Graham Spanier, charging AD Curley and Senior VP Schultz with perjury, and removing Sandusky’s name and likeness from various locations around campus. But this is not enough.
This thing is only going to get worse. More victims are going to come forward and it will soon get harder and harder to believe that most, if not all, of the Penn State football staff were not aware, or at least suspicious, that Sandusky was sexually abusing minors, even while he was a frequent guest within the PSU sports facility walls. And, although, I think it should go without saying, what is so disgusting about all of this, is that Paterno, Atheltic Director Curley, and Senior VP Schultz elected to put the stability of the program before the needs of the victims. As all of this becomes increasingly clear in the next week or so, as I am certain it will, harsher penalties must be levied.
Penn State must forfeit all remaining games and every member of the coaching staff must be let go. Players should transfer penalty-free. After some of the legal dust has settled, Penn State should be allowed to re-build its program, maybe including former staff members, if they can be vindicated of having kept quiet on the alleged sex abuse.
I am disgusted that students are rioting to support a man who, despite his prior reputation, has so clearly failed to protect the victims of his own coaching staff and failed to protect the reputation and long-term well-being of the university. I think this is just one more reason that Penn State does not deserve the remainder of this football season.
I keep thinking back to the Ohio State scandal and thinking how much angrier and more unified the media and general public seemed about a couple of kids getting discounted tattoos than they are now about JoePa and Spanier choosing to conceal rather than report the rape of a child. Discounted tattoos; not even free tattoos. For fuck sake.
What we should take away from this awful miserable I-am-pulling-at-my-incredible-hair-from-anger series of events, is that child sex abuse is not relegated to kidnappings and crappy David-Schwimmer-directed Clive Owen films; most of it occurs right beneath our noses. Furthermore, as PSU’s long-held breath attests, this is an issue that, maybe due to homophobia or maybe due just to general squeamishness, people find very hard to talk about. But that does not mean it is okay not to talk about it. Former NFL FB Heath Evans was a guest on Jime Rome today, talking about his Heath Evans Foundation, which has a lot of resources and does a lot of positive work with victims of sex abuse. I would encourage everyone to read a little bit about it, like I did, because I think it will help us all understand the key issues and make us better citizens in a world in which sex abuse does, unfortunately, exist.
I’m going to give Jim Rome the final word here, because I think his coverage of this story has been unparalleled, and because I think he deserves it:
“And to all the students supporting [Paterno], pointing out all he has done for the school and community: Why don’t you consider what he didn’t do – anything at all to protect those who were incapable of protecting themselves.”