This weekend’s revelations of sexual abuse and cover-up at Penn State have no doubt opened old wounds for those who’ve been victimized by sexual abuse. The sad fact remains that child sexual abuse and exploitation is an all too common reality in our society. The abuse is aggravated when it is perpetrated by a trusted member of the community such as a priest, minister, Boy Scout leader, or, as in this particular case, a college football coach.
Here’s the story as we now understand it. Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator for the famous Penn State Nittany Lions football program, had retired in 1999. However, he was still a respected figure on campus and continued to enjoy the privileges of access to the campus facilities after retirement. Sandusky, who had served as the assistant football coach for decades under legendary coach Joe Paterno, had founded a non-profit for at-risk kids called Second Mile. According to news reports, it was these boys that Sandusky abused over the last 15 years. The charges range from inappropriate touching to anal rape.
According to media reports, just three years ago, a Penn State graduate assistant witnessed Sandusky sodomizing a young boy in the school’s showers and reported it to Coach Joe Paterno. Paterno then reported it to the athletic director of the school—but not to police. Two weeks later, the school’s Athletic Director and a Vice President of the school met with the graduate assistant who related what he had seen. Then, apparently—and incredibly—neither of these men called the police. Now, both the Athletic Director and the Vice President face criminal charges for failing to report this abuse, and for lying to the grand jury investigating the Sandusky matter.
Of course, there are patterns of behavior in the Penn State abuse case that are very similar to the patterns of sexual predators in other sexual abuse cases in which I’ve been involved—Catholic priest abuse, Mormon Church abuse and, most recently, Boy Scout abuse. In most instances, the predator ingratiates himself into a community, association, or organization where he has access to the young, vulnerable children—just like this case. In most cases, he is in a position of trust, authority, and responsibility over the children—just like this case. Finally, he is able to lure these kids through his charismatic presence or by buying gifts or presents, for in some situations, the promise of a better life is all the predator needs to gain access to the young child—again, just like this case. The parallels are striking. It just seems to happen over and over again in setting after setting.
I’m never particularly surprised to see the new and novel ways that adults manipulate kids into abuse. What I am surprised at here—stunned would be a better word—is that, in this day and age, sophisticated professionals like an Athletic Director and a Vice President at a major university would not report such a blatant incident of child abuse—let alone that they would apparently lie about it in front of a grand jury. What is it going to take to get people to report child abuse? What is it going to take to get institutions of trust to stop covering it up? How many times, and how many institutions, do we have to go through this before adults start acting like adults?
Finally, I need to lodge a stiff protest concerning the public reaction thus far concerning the Sandusky abuse case. This morning on National Public Radio I heard the Penn State Alumni President go on and on about how this scandal should not hurt the great Penn State football legacy. And over at ESPN or on various sports radio talk shows, I see and hear nothing but speculation about Penn State, its reputation, and the future of its football program. That seems to be the exclusive focus of the media reports. Now, I’m as much a fan of college football and Joe Paterno as anyone else. But, I am simply appalled that we are not hearing any concern for the victims of abuse. We know there were eight: I’m guessing there were eighty. Somebody tell me what Penn State has done to try to help them? What has Penn State done to protect them in this process? What has Penn State done to let them know that no one blames them for this scandal? Where is it? I just haven’t seen any of it. To say the obvious, what should concern anyone who cares about kids is not how this scandal might affect Penn State’s college football program—for crying out loud—but, instead is what is happening to the victims, and what lessons can be learned from this whole mess.
Somebody please tell the folks at Penn State to wake up and smell the coffee. Hard as it may be for them to believe, there are more important things than college football. Geepers.