November 18, 2011

Moving Forward After the Penn State Tragedy.


William Shakespeare himself could not have penned a more lurid tale had he tried, methinks.

What would he have called it, I wonder? The Chronicle of the Long Rise, and Spectacular Fall, of Penn State Football?

A Penn State assistant coach is accused of sexually abusing numerous young boys, often in a university setting.  A number of key figures, including the iconic, most-winning coach in NCAA history, a Director of Athletics and a University President are relieved of their duties by the Council of Trustees, after it is revealed they had secondhand knowledge of the events.

Much of the sports world descends into chaos.

For a week, the media circles like a pack of jackals. Suddenly, the indiscretions of other college programs—accepting free tattoos, t-shirts or wearing army fatigues to a press conference—seem laughable.

Additional information continues to surface. The former assistant coach denies wrongdoing on a telephone interview this week, leaving a national sports host looking shell-shocked. The former graduate assistant, who allegedly interrupted the assault of a young boy in the locker room shower by the former assistant coach, now says he intervened to stop whatever had been going on.

As the grand jury proceedings continue to be made public, so many seem to wonder just how this could happen in these times. Is it much more prevalent than we would like to admit? In many circles, the conversation seems to have turned to personal reactions.  What would you do if faced with a similar situation involving a boss, co-worker or trusted friend? Would you intervene immediately and await the arrival of the authorities? Would you leave the scene? Consult a superior for official protocol? Consult a trusted friend or spiritual advisor and then make a decision?

I have many family members and friends who are Penn State alums and supporters of the football program. All are saddened and angered by the program’s fall from grace.

If they feel this badly, I can only imagine how the real victims, the children and their families, must continue to feel as this saga wears on, as it inevitably will.

The story of good men who do nothing in response to evil is as old as time itself.

I can only wonder what went on in the head of people whom, for so many years, carried this horrible secret onto the football field and into the office. Guilt? Fear? Loyalty? Did they, like Lady MacBeth, wander about, wondering what could remove ‘the damned spot’ from their hands? Were there dark nights of the soul? Or, more chillingly, was it simply business as usual?

In the end, this isn’t really about football. It is about the dark side of human nature, about great heroes with horrible, fatal flaws.  It is about power and about prestige. It is about money. It is about secrecy. It is about the way power and opportunity perpetuate themselves in our society. The fact is that we live in a culture where many institutions, even institutions we admire, seek to pass the buck and preserve the brand. This is about a powerful man who abused vulnerable children and  other powerful men who, like the Bard’s characters, strutted and fretted like  players on the stage for  way too long, armed with knowledge which could have made a difference, but for reasons we understand and for reasons we may never understand, chose not to do so.

This is about our culture’s definition of masculinity. This is about how so many boys are still encouraged to tough it out, dry their tears, refrain from great emotional displays, protect one another’s reputation in the community.  This is about the horrible silence, rather than support, that often accompanies the revelation of sexual abuse in our society. This is about a ‘boys club’ culture, still alive and well in Pennsylvania, and, I daresay, many other parts of our country, which continues to harm men, women and children in oh-so-many ways.

As new information continues to be made public, we look forward to healing. We must remember the real victims in this case, the many young boys who have spoken out against their abuser. We must applaud their bravery and the bravery of their families. More importantly, we must work to prevent such abhorrent practices from recurring. So much continues to remain unreported  in our schools, our offices and in the boardrooms of corporate America. As a society, we must change the direction that power operates.

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