After watching the appalling, immature response to the rightful firing of Joe Paterno last night, I had difficulty sleeping. I could not reconcile in my mind how people were so willing to further discard these children who were victimized, further negate their trauma and reduce their suffering to something negligible and less important than the football trophies lining Penn State’s halls. I’m not introducing the main characters of this post, because by now I’m sure you all know them.
In situations like these, you don’t even have to say “I’m on Paterno’s side,” which is just what all the screaming rioters on Penn State’s campus and outside his home are doing. By bemoaning a lost season, a coach’s supposedly truncated career, a football team’s interrupted success, you are contributing your voice to the chorus of people who think this isn’t such a big deal. That the interruption of Penn State’s stellar season is actually what’s pretty sad! That a coach with such success deserves to be forgiven for some things! And they were awful things, but they happened years ago! And he reported it to the Athletic Director, so he did his job!
If you’re a rape or sexual assault victim, that chorus can sound mighty deafening. And ceaseless.
So, I’m here to tell you that this is a big deal. A really $&%/!*$ big deal. And I can’t help but cringe anytime I hear a comment on this issue that hints at anything otherwise. That Paterno didn’t have this in his control. That reporting a criminal act and the victimization of a child to an administrator with no follow-up was sufficient. That marching his ass down to the closest precinct wasn’t something he unquestionably should have done, and ensured that Sandusky didn’t get within a hundred yards of a kid ever again. We are told that we should do the best we can with what we know; Paterno and McQuery did nothing of any consequence with what they knew. They moved at a glacial pace and took actions that were of minimal requirement. They worked at a university and with students, whose well-being is ostensibly the greatest concern of any educational institution. In case anyone doubted that the cash cow athletics of some colleges is what is of greatest concern, I give you this sick and disturbing example. There is quite literally no excuse, no “explanation” of the multiple failures of multiple leaders, that doesn’t rest on the fact that compromising a winning and money-making football team was in no way an option, that this team would not be brought down by ANYthing, not even the physical, emotional, and mental sacrifice of children.
Do I sound pissed? You bet I am. You should be, too. Let’s try, for a daring second, to re-prioritize the issues of our country. Let’s move “college football” from its precious perch and consider the prevention of rape and sexual assault to be of greatest importance. The swift punishment of the criminals who perform these acts to be the first order of business, not falling behind the next desperate grasp for a game win, a series win, a university parade.
I don’t care much what happens to Paterno and the other members of a coaching or admin staff who have had blessed careers and public lives rife with success. What I care about is the little boys who suffered rapes, forced oral sex, molestation, tried to negotiate the fear, humiliation, anger, and physical ramifications of these. Who did not leave the locker rooms, living rooms, camping trips or tents with any swollen bank accounts, any buildings or stadiums named after them, any hordes of fans claiming that they supported them no matter what. Yep. I’m on their side.
And to those screaming Penn State students, knocking over news vans and co-opting an act (rioting) reserved for disenfranchised populations (of which you are not) to demonstrate their subjugation, I’m going to bring this down to as personal a level as I can. I ask of you this: You have a father. Or a brother. Or a son. Or a boyfriend. Or just a close friend. Someone you love and care deeply for. Imagine they had been anally raped in the Penn State locker room, and someone had walked in and seen it and done nothing. Walked right back out instead of saving him. And that the very man you are crowing about knew of it. And turned his head. And your father/brother/son/boyfriend/friend was ignored, his pain deemed not important or relevant, his subsequent suffering that you would have witnessed first hand dismissed and cast aside. Now picture him standing in front of this narcissistic crowd, and asking you to tell him to his face that his raping isn’t as important as your beloved football coach keeping his job. If you can easily do that, then we are in even more depraved trouble than I thought.
After the absurd riots started following his firing, Paterno said that he appreciated the outpouring of support but to please “remain calm and respect the university, its property, and all that we value.”
Respect the university! Nothing about those boys, still, who I knew were raped and assaulted, nothing about respecting them and their pain and ordeal. Respecting the university doesn’t appear to have been on Paterno or McQuery’s mind when they covered up rape, abuse and molestation cases that would ultimately be forever associated with the university and debase its reputation. They showed no respect for the little boys who lives were forever marked by the despicable actions of their buddy Sandusky. They created a chain of administrators and coaches who failed time after time to immediately stop and fix this. So, no, Paterno, despite that your plea was directed at your supporters, I’m pretty riled up and have lost respect for much of Penn State myself. Remain calm and respect the university? – that’s a mighty tall order. Don’t think I can fill it.
He followed his statements with this claim: “With the benefit of hindsight, I should have done more.”
How hollow that rings.