Bullies Force “Victim One” Out of School: Homophobia & the Penn State Scandal
Victim One, the first of the alleged victims of former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, has had to leave his school, Central Mountain High School, in the midst of his senior year. Bullying is the reason, a counselor said on Sunday: Mike Gillum, a psychologist who is helping Victim One and his family, said that the 17-year-old has received verbal threats and been the object of name-calling. He noted that “officials at Central Mountain High School in Clinton County weren’t providing guidance for fellow students, who were reacting badly about Joe Paterno’s firing and blaming the 17-year-old.”
Alleged victims have been turning to each other for support. Gillum says that Victim One has been heartened by seeing others encouraged by him to speak out too. Says Gillum,
“He feels good about that. That’s the one good that’s come of all this.”
When contacted, the school district where Victim One is a student, said that it would be “inappropriate” to comment.
To say that the scandal, in which Sandusky has been accused of sexually abusing eight boys starting in the 1990s, has caused the powerhouse university to take a hard look at itself is no understatement. English professor Michael Bérubé is the Paterno Family Professor in Literature and director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University. In a recent New York Times op-ed, Bérubé describes the “bitter reckoning” the Penn State community of some 6,000 faculty members and 45,000 students who are “every bit as disgusted and horrified as you are” and the extent to which the fortunes and even the reputation of the university have become tied to Penn State football:
I have had but one substantial encounter with Mr. Paterno, a postgame dinner 10 years ago (the Paternos host 50 or 60 guests on such occasions) during which I talked to him about Virgil and “Moby-Dick” — which he said he had recently reread. He noted that Ahab is furious that the whale can descend to the depths while Ahab himself remains on the surface of things. Since then, I’ve spoken chiefly to Sue, who works with Special Olympics and is friendly to my 20-year-old son, Jamie, who has Down syndrome. I’ve let her know that I’ve used the Paterno Fund for arts and humanities programming and disability studies. In this debacle, there seems no reason to think of her with anything but compassion.
And yet there is a sense in which the Paternos’ academic legacy makes the scandal worse, or more complicated, insofar as their reputation for academic integrity was well earned. Because of that reputation, Penn State faculty members were permitted to feel less conflicted about the school’s football program than our counterparts elsewhere; we took pride in the fact that the school had never run afoul of the N.C.A.A. and that its football coach benched star players for missing class. Now we are in shock.
To what extent did not only Paterno, but the administrators running the university plus many other members of Penn State, stick to “the surface of things” without plumbing down into the depths of what was really going on in every corner of the university?
Is every program supported by the Paterno Fund, by the proceeds of the university’s football program, now as tainted by allegations of a scandal involving the sexual abuse of boys by a once esteemed assistant coach and in the very showers used by the university’s football team?
Writer Daniel Mendelsohn takes a hard look at the deep-running denial among Penn State officials and others. If assistant coach Michael McQueary had seen Sandusky abusing a girl instead of a boy, would anyone have had any hesitation about speaking up, about going to the police?
Mr. McQueary’s refusal to process the scene he described — his coach having sex with another male — was reflected in the reaction of the university itself, which can only be called denial. You see this in the squeamish treatment of the assaults as a series of inscrutable peccadilloes best discussed — and indulged — behind closed doors. (Penn State’s athletic director subsequently characterized Mr. Sandusky’s alleged act as “horsing around,” a term you suspect he would not have used to describe the rape of a 10-year-old girl.) Denial is there in the treatment of the victims as somehow untouchable, so fully tainted they couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be rescued. For Penn State officials, disgust at the perceived gay element seems to have outweighed the horror of the crimes themselves. (“Perceived,” because psychologists generally deny that pedophiles possess adult sexuality — something that can be described as “gay” or “straight” in the first place.)
The denial is hardly surprising. In a culture that increasingly accepts gay life, organized athletics, from middle school to the professional leagues, is the last redoubt of unapologetic anti-gay sentiment. Anecdotal and public evidence for this is dismayingly overwhelming. Most recently, Sean Avery, of the New York Rangers hockey team, has been ostracized and ridiculed merely for making a short video in support of New York’s same-sex marriage act. (Anti-gay slurs are such an ingrained part of Ranger fans’ cheering that some gay fans have stopped attending games.)
The NCAA plans to launch an investigation of Penn State in the wake of the revelation of the scandal. Penn State’s faculty senate has called for an independent review of the Sandusky scandal. Penn State University itself has promised a full investigation of the scandal; no one less than former FBI director Louis Freeh has been tapped to head the investigation. Freeh’s investigation will go back farther than 1975 and therefore extend over a much longer period than that covered by the grand jury report.
But will any of these investigations examine the issues Mendelssohn highlights, most of all the homophobia within the Penn State athletic program and among the university’s officials, the “vociferous antipathy to homosexuality” of not only male athletes but of college sports itself?
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