Earlier this year, an off-duty police officer from Oklahoma City was watching a basketball game at a local sports bar with some family and friends. The employees at the bar asked him to intervene when some other customers got out of hand. When all was said and done, the drunk customers beat the off-duty officer to the point that he was paralyzed.
The tragedy of this situation sent ripples of outrage across the state of OK. The local news stations reported on the story obsessively for a couple of weeks. Benefit concerts and other events were organized all over the city to raise money and show support for a fallen hero. The community truly came together to take care of one of its own in a moment of tragedy for the officer and his family.
I happened to be in town about a month after the incident, and people were still talking about it--how they had given money to a fund for his children, how they’d attended an event to help pay for his medical bills, how sad and maddening it was that such a great person had had his life forever changed by the actions of some stupid individuals.
Even though I’ve never met the officer or his family, I felt the collective rage--I thought about my best friend’s husband and my cousin--both police officers who put themselves in danger’s way to keep their communities safer. I thought about what life would have been like if my husband was injured in a way that did not allow him to provide for our family any longer--the physicality of coming back from the injury, the psychological impact it would have on all of us.
I first heard about the Penn State scandal like I hear about most things--on Facebook. Immediately, I started googling “Jerry Sandusky” and “Mike McQueary” as I saw their names pop up. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this.)
As I read article after article, I started to tremble. At one point, I read a segment of the legal documents that described what was witnessed--Sandusky engaging in anal intercourse with a child who appeared to be around ten years of age--and I thought I was going to vomit. I had to stop reading, not because I wanted to avoid it but because I didn’t want to get sick.
As more of the story started coming out in the press, the rage continued to build. I had a hard time sleeping last night.
This morning, I just knew I would wake up to a news feed full of comments about the heinous reports--the hell that these victims had experienced. And instead, I saw things that made me want to vomit and then strangle some people.
On behalf of the children who were victimized by Jerry Sandusky, let me address a few things.
- If you are more concerned about Joe Paterno being fired than the fact that multiple children over the last God-knows-how-many years were sexually abused by this monster, you are an asshole and you need to take a moment to think about what exactly is making your brain malfunction.
- If you “don’t want to be too hard on this McQueary guy” (direct quotation from FB), you are an asshole, and you need to take a moment to think about what exactly is making your brain malfunction.
- If you have had a thought anywhere along the lines of “I wonder what this means for Penn State,” you are an asshole, and you need to take a moment to think about what exactly is making your brain malfunction.
Let me address point #1. Joe Paterno is and always will be one of the best coaches in NCAA football. His record, his rapport with the media and his players, his reputation as a winner has not changed. However, this talk about how unfortunate it is that he is going out on such a sour note is absurd. A sour note? Really? No. A sour note would be if we found out he had embezzled money from the program. That would leave a sour taste in my mouth. You will not convince me--not ever--that he was completely unaware of what was happening. The reports tell us that the athletic director and campus police were aware. I just don’t believe that he didn’t know. I understand why some people say this is not related to his coaching (I believe he should be dealt with in a criminal court just like everyone else who had knowledge of this), but I absolutely think Penn State is right in firing him. Why would they want to be associated with him? In reality, though, in light of the big picture here, I just don’t care. I don’t care what Joe Paterno does with his life. His being fired is just a distraction from the real issue at hand.
Secondly, let’s talk about Mike McQueary, this guy who is making press for being the one who definitively witnessed the anal rape of a child and did nothing about it. Yes, he supposedly told his dad and eventually told school authorities, but then nothing happened. (It has been reported that this grad assistant turned current assistant coach will be on the sidelines in this weekend’s game against Nebraska. Chew on that for a little while.) No one did anything. I’ve seen people say things on FB like, “he was just a kid...he didn’t know what to do...” NO HE WASN’T! He was a grown ass 28-year-old man whose scruples completely failed him. You know who was a kid? The 10-year-old being anally raped in the shower.
Let’s look at a different scenario. If you were walking through a public space, say a mall parking lot, and you saw a man beating a woman in the face until blood was dripping on the ground, what would you do? Depending on the size of the attacker, I would possibly intervene physically--NATURAL human instinct is to stop something like that. At the very least, I would get out my cell phone and call 911. If there were other people around, I would draw attention to the situation--scream, jump up and down, yell fire, whatever it took to get other people involved. You know what I would never do? Worry about someone finding out or the “proper way to handle something like this” (another sentiment that is floating around.)
So, here we have one grown man anally raping a child and another grown man witnessing it, and his first reaction wasn’t to stop it? WHY THE HELL NOT?
So, he passed the buck to university officials--campus police and people in the athletic department, none of which took action in any form. How do those people sleep at night? I would love to sit down with these people face-to-face and ask them if they have nightmares. Because I hope they do. I hope they are tormented with the guilt they should feel over their non-action. I want to know why. Why didn’t they do something? Were they concerned about the reputation of the school? The reputation of the team? Their reputations? Losing their jobs? What exactly was the thing that was such a big issue that it outweighed saving children from being abused?
That brings me to the third point. Institutions survive scandal all the time. My husband was a cadet at the United States Air Force Academy during a highly publicized rape scandal. Applications and enrollment at the university were not affected. You would be hard pressed to find someone who has written off the Air Force or the university because of the stupid actions of a few individuals. Or how about the Catholic church? Hundreds of thousands of people attend mass weekly despite the fact that that institution is undergoing on-going scandals with priests. They do not blame the entire institution for the actions of individuals.
In the case with Penn State, there are thousands of people who couldn’t have told you their mascot was the Nittany Lions, and once Lindsay Lohan does something stupid, they’ll forget this story every existed. Others who follow college football will look back at this chapter of their history disgustedly, but I doubt the institution of Penn State is going to be affected in a major way because most people have the ability to decipher where blame should be placed.
First and foremost, the blame is on Jerry Sandusky. He is the demon who hurt children. He and all the men (and women) out there committing these crimes deserve nothing short of death. (I’m not looking for a debate about the death penalty. You won’t change my mind about this.) The vindictive part of me thinks they should be released without protection in high-security prisons among the most dangerous, mentally ill prisoners. I know people will argue that it is God’s place to judge everyone, but I don’t think people who hurt children are good enough for Hell.
All of the people who knew what was going on in some way or another need to be held accountable. What is wrong with us? What is wrong with us when we look the other way in a situation that is completely unambiguous? There should never--not ever--be a question in our minds whether it is our job to protect people who can’t protect themselves. Never.
If you were to ask any resident of OKC about the paralyzed officer and the men who beat him, you would not get an apathetic response. You most certainly would not hear someone joke about it. And yet, this is what I am seeing.
I’m not saying I’m the only one expressing rage about this. In fact, many people are posting things about how they just don’t have words. One friend did say he was appalled that more people seem upset about Joe Paterno’s firing than the anal rape of a ten-year-old boy. We are collectively stunned, immobilized, debilitated.
This blog is generally light-hearted, somewhat trivial, and always personal. I thought a lot about whether or not I wanted to put something like this on here for everyone to read. It’s not a funny story about my life as a military wife. It isn’t a book recommendation or review of an album I’ve been listening to. It isn’t anecdotal evidence of my children’s perfection.
But you know what it is? Personal. I take this very personally. First as the mother of two young boys, but even more as a HUMAN BEING. Other human beings have been irreparably damaged through sexual abuse. It’s not just another news story. It’s not something to joke about. It is something that should rock us to the core--each and every one of us. This should be keeping us up at night. We should be angry. We should stay angry--not the kind of angry that eats us up, but the kind that calls us to act. We should be righteously indignant.
This did not just happen to dozens of young boys in some other place.
It happened to our children.
It happened to us.
We can not disconnect from this pain to the point that we forget.
It’s that kind of disconnect that allowed children--flesh and blood--to fall into the crack created by self-interest and cowardice.
It’s not okay. Not okay.
I want to believe we are better than this.