I read the Freeh report yesterday. The sick feeling in my stomach is still here this morning & I can’t shake the images detailed in the report from my head – what the janitor saw, McQuery on the phone to his dad. And then there’s the picture from the paper of Paterno standing outside his house saying he wished he’d done more. But it’s about those kids – the physical, emotional, mental damage done to them – my heart is broken for them. And more child-victims of the monster Sandusky are coming forward.
What follows may be a little ramble-y but I’m trying to wrap my head around all this.
The Freeh report tells us ’what happened’ and we are all left struggling with ’how it happened.’ Freeh concludes with: “The release of our report today marks the beginning of a process for Penn State, and not the end. It is critical that Old Main, the Board and the Penn State community never forget these failures and commit themselves to strengthening an open, compliant and victim sensitive environment – where everyone has the duty to “blow the whistle” on anyone who breaks this trust, no matter how powerful or prominent they may appear to be.”
To me it’s not about the fanaticism of people for: Penn State or college football or any football, or sports in general. It’s so much bigger, and in a horrible way so much smaller. When these kinds of crimes against children come out in the news we struggle to understand why it happened. We want it to never happen again, and so we look to the specific circumstances, the environment, the institution in which they occurred. Whether it’s the Boy Scout camp, the church, the sports camp…and we want to ‘fix’ these environments, these places. We want to change the procedures and attitudes of people in these places that defacto ‘allowed’ the crimes to occur.
I am a sports fan, participant, booster, and volunteer. I am a Vikings fanatic. (I dye my hair purple for the season. The toaster that my husband got me for my birthday imprints the Norseman on each side of my toast every morning. I leave behind my husband, daughter, dog, and home here in Illinois to spend a week in Mankato watching the players go thru drills. After the rat-bastard-Saints beat my beloved Vikings in that damn playoff game I cried…full-body sobbing, actually.) And I RESENT LIKE HELL hearing that sports fanaticism is pointed to as something that contributed to the more-than-a-decade-long-spree of evil deeds committed by Sandusky. Penn State was his place, sports were his milieu, Second Mile his avenue to access, etc…and while each of these bears a specific kind of responsibility, here’s the deal as I see it: Anywhere children are can be the place children are victimized. The monsters that commit these crimes rely on the incredulity we all have that these monsters do not exist in ‘our world’ – our church, our Boy Scout camp, our gym, our team. In our daily lives we do not expect to see monsters, but they walk around in the guise of coaches, teachers, volunteers, friends. The monsters can look like us, like our friends. And I fear that by pointing the finger at sports, specifically our love of sports, others may simply continue the catastrophic incredulity that these monsters count on – we do not expect to encounter horror. Those who say that sports fanaticism is ‘why it happened’ at Penn State are giving credence to the monster’s lie that there’s something in the system that causes the monsters…when in fact the monsters can exist anywhere the children are. The Sandusky’s in the world are disgusting, sick, MF bastards willing to lie & cheat and manipulate in the most incredible ways, in the most mundane of places, to commit the most horrible of deeds. I think we (and I say ‘we’ in a general way, with an assumption that many of the folks here on DN are like me…we deeply understand the value of participation in & enjoyment of sports) we are in a special position to be watchful because we bring kids to sports; we work with kids in sports. Because we believe in all the best things sports teaches – commitment, discipline, teamwork, joy in winning, grace in losing, strength, hard work, friendships made, competition, getting dirty and having fun. But there is nothing inherent in our love of sports that makes sports fans more likely to not believe crimes like these can happen in our midsts. Anywhere children are can be the place where children are victimized. Children love sports and we want them to participate and get from sports the best of things sports can offer. But the same is true of church, of the Boy Scouts…and the monsters go where the children are. Yes, I accept that we sports lovers have a special opportunity to work with kids, but we also have a special opportunity to protect them too. I see it in the way people at training camp in Mankato keep an eye on the kids…any kid that falls down is just instinctively picked up by the nearest fellow-Vikings fan. That’s how we are. And we must not let the monsters like Sandusky lead us to believe that if sports were different his crimes would not have happened. Like Freeh said “everyone has the duty to “blow the whistle” on anyone who breaks this trust, no matter how powerful or prominent they may appear to be."
The janitors were afraid for their jobs, McQuery was a freakin’ wuss (an aside: sorry, but I’m a 110 lb, 5’4’ woman and all I can think of is I would do WHATEVER I had to do to stop a grown man who was sodomizing a little boy in the shower,) Paterno, Spanier, Shultz and Curley were sickeningly complicit in letting Sandusky continue his evil deeds. I don’t care why, but each of those guys made catastrophically horrible choices. And those choices led to more children becoming victims. Those guys chose to be of no help whatsoever to the victims they knew about. Our collective lesson should be to know that every one of us has the duty to blow the whistle, and to keep blowing that damn whistle until the monster is stopped. The children trust us to do that.
I know one of these monsters. In my group of sport-minded friends here in Illinois there’s one who’s in jail today and likely (hopefully) will be in prison soon. He accused of something like 15 counts of criminal sexual abuse of a minor, occurred for a year at his church. He admitted it all to the police already. He was a kid’s church leader, a married guy with 5 kids, a state-ranked softball league official in the summer, a booster of all sports in the community… and he was a close friend. Though none of us attended his church, we would have told you we knew him pretty well, liked him. Truly, the guy I knew was a friend…but I’ve no idea who this dude really is. Not anymore. He’s a monster and we didn’t know it. It wasn’t the church; it wasn’t the sports…but he used both of those to lure this victim and then to try and lure a second one. He skillfully built up this persona of a ‘nice guy’…and that’s the guy we called our friend... but now I hope that his future includes painful, non-consensual anal prison rape. I’m not sorry dude…that’s what you deserve.