Penn State Scandal: Can You Imagine?

There is a child sex abuse scandal at Penn State and people have taken to the streets to celebrate (again).

Seriously, people? Is this really the best we have in us? Let’s start with some basics:

Child – Human beings, around middle school age, in this case boys. Young boys.
Sex Abuse – Rape. Rape. Rape.
Scandal - People knew about boys being raped and didn’t report it to police.
Celebrate – People took to the streets to initially support, and later protest the firing of those involved in said scandal.

There are a couple of ways we can go about this. First, you could read the piece I wrote about the way people celebrated the murder of Osama bin Laden.  Or, you could read the first six lines of this piece, over and over again, until it sinks in. Then, if the gross inhumanity isn’t enough to bring you to your knees, then walk with me for a moment. Allow me to tell you a story.

Think of a boy, around middle school age, in your own life. It can be your son, a nephew, or grandson. It can be a neighbor kid or a co-worker’s son. It can even be you when you were a boy, or your partner, or your father. Just pick someone, any one of the males in your life, and hold an image of him at about 10-years old in your mind. I want you to really step into this… find that boy in your mind’s eye and bring him close to you.

How tall is he? 
How much does he weigh? 
What does he look like?My own son is 5’3, an inch taller than me, or at least he was when he went to bed a few hours ago. He’s not quite 100 pounds of golden brown skin stretched perfectly over endlessly active muscles and bones that seem to be growing faster than ever before. Just thinking of him brings a smile to my face.

He is a good looking kid. His longish, dirty blond hair hangs down across his forehead and he does that thing that the boys do–that maddening flip–to keep the hair out of his eyes. He does it about a million times a day. I wonder how long it will take him to break that habit, and if I crept into his room right now and shaved his head while he slept, would he still flip tomorrow? I’m guessing probably so.

His stomach is a bottomless pit and while I’d heard this was coming, there was no way to prepare for the trail of mulch I find between my front door and the kitchen. He comes in, grabs a snack from the fridge, and goes out to play hockey. He comes in, retrieves a banana from the fruit bowl, and goes out to the fort. He comes in, gets two snack bags of pretzels, and heads out for football. Throw in dinner, a few more trips between the couch and the pantry, and eventually I send him to bed with the reassurance that tomorrow is a new brand new day.

My son has a natural sense of humor, his timing impeccable. Tonight he yelled at the television, “NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION!” Without revealing even a hint of amusement, he pointed to the news anchor and calmly clarified, “She says they’re going to tax Christmas trees.” Then, he leaned back into the couch, took a great big bite of his apple, and shook his head like a disgusted old man.

What about your boy? Can you see him clearly in your mind? Is he there with you?

Is he an active child?
 Does he like school?
 What does he love to do?

My boy plays soccer in the spring and runs cross country in the fall. He isn’t a huge fan of reading but he loves stories. He takes his studies seriously enough, most of the time, but is probably most excited about taking honors level Spanish at the high school, as he’s only in 8th grade. He brings home little nuggets of the new language to teach the rest of us.

He loves to make fancy breakfasts and desserts but hates to clean up the dishes so it doesn’t happen often. And he is such a sweet kid, not that he wouldn’t go out of his way to keep that from being known. A couple weeks ago, a four-year old neighbor pounded on the front door and my boy answered. I heard the tiniest little voice asking my 14-year old, “Can you come out and play?” It was deeply amusing but what came next stopped me in my tracks. “Hey Mom,” my deep-voiced son called out, “Can I go out and play?”

He loves sports, all sports really, but particularly hockey, football, and soccer but there are only two things that will keep him inside for weeks at a time. They are the World Cup and the Olympics. He’s hard core scheming about how to get himself to London for the 2012 games. Short of a–well, I was going to say miracle but it would actually be more like years of hard work paying off–it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to get us there. He’s now trying to figure out how to get Ellen involved in making his not-so-humble Olympic dreams come true. Yes, he’s a crafty one. Consider yourselves warned.

I love him so much it takes my breath away.

How about you? How is your boy doing in there? Can you see his clothes? Smell his cologne? If you close your eyes, does it seem like you can reach out and touch him? Okay, good…

Who are his athletic idols/mentors/favorites? Whose jersey does he wear? What team does he beg to go watch? Who does he pretend to be when he plays in the backyard or the game system in the living room? Who does he want to be like when he grows up?

For my son, it’s Ronaldo and Beckham on the soccer field, Nate Washington from the Titans, and Pekka Rinne from the Nashville Predators. His coaches of choice are both local favorites, Jeff Fisher and Barry Trotz. As you can imagine, he would be deliriously happy to share space with any of these men. So, are you still with me? Who is that guy in your boy’s life? Can you see them practicing super fly moves at a summer camp? Can you imagine your boy watching the big game with full VIP treatment, your family in his favorite player’s designated seats? Are you able to see your boy and his sports idol in your mind? Good.

Now, imagine that a man raped your boy.

That’s what is alleged to have taken place at Penn State.

Imagine that your boy was too afraid or ashamed to tell anyone what happened, or perhaps that he did tell and no one did anything about it.

That’s what is alleged to have taken place at Penn State.

Imagine that it took years for the truth to begin to come out. Imagine sitting with your boy, now an adult himself, as the story breaks and spreads like wildfire through every possible media outlet. Imagine watching the evening news as your boy’s worst nightmare is revealed for the first time, a vicious betrayal, shocking abuse when he was young and tender as you see him in your mind right now. There are other boys like yours, many more, in fact. And there are people who knew about what happened to your boy and those other boys who didn’t do enough to protect them, while still others labored intensively to prevent the truth from coming out.

That’s what is alleged to have taken place at Penn State.

Imagine, if you dare, the flood of emotions the boy in your mind, your boy, might be experiencing right now as this scandal unfolds.

Wednesday morning I woke up to video of fans celebrating Joe Paterno. They were crowded around him, cheering and chanting, as if his team had just won the championship. And later that night, after hearing he’d been fired, fans once again took to the streets to rally in support of their beloved football coach.

All I’m asking you to do is imagine. Put yourself in the shoes of these victims, or their loved ones, and then decide how you wish to proceed at this incredibly tender time.

Young boys were raped, many of them, and secrets were kept. We cannot celebrate.

We must not celebrate (rally for/defend/protect/etc.) any part of the machine that made these crimes possible, or perpetuated the secrecy that allowed every consequential violation to occur. Many people’s lives were altered forever, in ways that most of us cannot imagine.

We must be willing to accept the consequences of our actions… and we must allow our heroes, idols, entertainers, teachers, leaders, and loved ones to do the same. Young boys with parents, siblings, friends, and eventually partners, children, grandchildren, were violated. Everything about their existence is altered forever. Please, please, please allow all of these people to receive whatever healing becomes possible when the people who do harm are held accountable for what they’ve done.

We must sit with this experience, with the reality of what’s happened here on our watch, and allow our hearts to be broken wide open. We must channel our rage, discomfort, and fear into healing and support for these victims… for all who survive sexual abuse.

We must look for ways to do more, to do better, to be better. Let’s examine how we may have contributed–with our dollars and hours and silence and face paint–to the culture that allows the violation of any living thing to go unreported.

(And if you still can’t imagine, Google ‘rape and post-traumatic stress disorder’…)

57 comments

Silvia G.
Silvia G.4 years ago

I didn't know anything about this, it is now that I've started reading about the whole thing, I am just horrified, I feel for the victims and all they have gone through, but what scares me most is to think that there were people supporting these criminals. If you support this you agree with sexual abuse, I can't see why anyone on earth would agree with that.

Latonya W.
Latonya W.4 years ago

This was really a great read....The thing that hurts the most is that people dont react the way they should unless it happens to them......I could only imagine the pain these boys are facing:(

Magdalena Lolas
Magdalena Lolas4 years ago

I'm guessing most of the people who walks out on the street to "defend" their idol forgot to think. I mean it, though I'm not trying to offend anybody now.

They are moved by emotions- first of some kind of false love(love is both sides)/admiration that gives them some purpose in life and kind of unity with others who share their fascination which gives them strength. Because both of those feelings- sense of purpose and belonging are essential to most of people they need to deny the truth for their own sake and that's why they are lacking of empathy for the victim.

That's why I really don't want to judge those people, but hope they would soon find themselves real purpose in life- like fighting those who abuse others and will wake up of their denial to the truth.
Because there are no idols worth of living in lie...

Holly Lawrence
Holly Lawrence4 years ago

THANK YOU!! We need more people speaking for the victims - not the predators!

Shan D.
Shan D.4 years ago

When did organized sports become like a cult where the coach is the high priest who can do no wrong? A similar thing happened here in Canada, when a hockey coach molested the boys he was supposed to be teaching. Thank goodness one of them finally went public and helped stop this!

Lovely Devaya
Lovely Devaya4 years ago

I don't think it needs 4 pages of your article to convince people that this is a 'heinous' crime! If it does, then there's something terribly wrong with the humans on this planet?!!!
The people who rioted in support of this supposedly "fabulous" coach, who ruined so many young lives by his silence and inaction should themselves be severely punished.

Holly McClenahan
Holly McClenahan4 years ago

To me this whole sports thing has gotten sicker and sicker for our society. We, as a society, are absorbed in sports, the coaches and players are the gods. Of course, people are in disbelief, their beloved gods are not who they think they are. Just look at Tiger Woods. Having had a son who was molested and seeing the after affects for years and years. I think, we are failing as a society. The support and focus should be for the victims.This is not "One nation under God" any more. We are a fractured nation with many personality disorders. Wake up people!

Giovanna M.
Giovanna M.4 years ago

Moving article.
Denial is a very strong motor: Most of us try to protect ourselves from what we can not stand. Many abuse victims hide what happens because they can't believe it is happening, they are scared or ashamed, they might even think they deserve it, or they simply think no one will believe them or that they may be held resposnible. Many of them try to go on living without really confronting what's happened to them, at least not immediately. That's a kind of denial.
Other people can not stand having their idols or way of life shaken. So they act deaf when the victims speak up against their sport heros, husbands etc... That's another kind of denial.

I find very sad that, often, victims feel so isolated for a long time.
I find it sad in a different way (not a postitive one) that somepeople's life is so empty that they must excuse their idols even under such horrid circumstances.

Mary Monell
mary ,monell4 years ago

What worries me is the fact the assistant coach saw the act happening and did nothing to stop it. Events like this and others make me worry if something were to happen to me or anyone I cared about in public would any one help? What is happening to our society? Where is the care and concern for others? How could this person not stop a rape of a child that was happening right in front of him? Why did this take so long to come out? What can we do to prevent this horrors from continuing?

Michael M.
Michael M.4 years ago

What is really sick and disgusting are all the people who are defending the head coach.

To those idiots I say to them: Invent a time machine, go back to Penn State when you were 12-13 yrs old and have another coach molest you, in full knowledge of the head coach.

Then let's see if you are still willing to defend the him and his staff...