Scenes from State College, Pennsylvania last night are incomprehensible to me. Students rioting in protest of the dismissal of head football coach, Joe Paterno. Chants of “We want JoPa. One more game.” I realize college students can be reactionary and influenced by groupthink, but they need to stop a minute and think about exactly what it is they were protesting. In hindsight, they will regret it.
If you’re outside of the U.S. or have lived in a bubble for the last week, here is a quick recap of what has gone on at Penn State University. A grand jury report was released detailing allegations of the sexual abuse of eight male minors by former Assistant Coach, Jerry Sandusky. If witness accounts are credible (and there were over ten separate witnesses to various alleged incidents of various degrees of sexual assault of boys ranging in age from 7 to 14), then this person is a predatory monster, and could have been stopped on many occasions with more aggressive intervention.
The most striking incident, and the one in which Paterno failed as a human being, was in 2002, when a graduate assistant coach witnessed Sandusky having anal intercourse with a ten year-old boy in the shower in the football locker room. The graduate assistant reported the incident to Paterno (the next day, after discussing it with his father), who ferried it up the chain of university officials, who proceeded to do nothing. Nothing but offer Sandusky an early retirement package in exchange for keeping the incident quiet.
No report was filed with the University Police, the Pennsylvania State Police, child protection agencies, or local authorities. Sandusky continued to have unfettered access to university resources and buildings, and remained involved with the charity he founded, The Second Mile, a charity founded, ironically, or malevolently, it would seem, to help troubled young boys.
It’s a shame that a mother, any mother, didn’t walk in on this alleged act.
It’s easy to imagine how you would personally react to a hypothetical situation. Whether or not it is how you would actually act in the moment is debatable. I can say with reasonable certitude that my reaction would not have been to run out of the building, and call my daddy for advice.
What implements are available in a locker room? A baseball bat would be ideal, but failing that, I can think of three. My voice. I would have screamed at him like a raving banshee. The telephone. As soon as the boy was safe there’s no way in hell I wouldn’t call the police. And my bare hands. I think I could take a 50-something wet and naked man. I’d like to think the guy would not have a face left by the time I got done with him. Or I’d at least be able to give the child an opportunity to get away. You don’t fuck with a mother. Honey badger has nothing on the protective wrath of a mom when she sees a child in distress. Have you ever seen The National Geographic Channel? Wild Kingdom? I’m not trying to be facetious or silly here. We will kick your living ass.
But most importantly, a mother would take care of the child. Even if not her own. She’d take that poor innocent ten year-old boy to safety. Shelter him. Dry him off. Cradle him. Talk to him. Wipe away his tears. Show him that he is loved, safe, protected, and not alone. No one was there for this boy. And that absolutely tears my heart into pieces.
A ten year-old boy? How do you just walk out of the room? While the assault is still taking place? I don’t care who the perpetrator is, whether you fear your job is on the line, or if you’re paralyzed by what you’ve seen, if you don’t react to help the victim in that situation, you are a gutless fucking coward. I’m talking to you, graduate assistant, Mike McQueary. And by not reporting it to the police after it’s clear that no one has followed up on it, and keeping your job with the university? That means you have no soul.
I understand that Mr. Sandusky is innocent until proven guilty, but a witness who alleges what you did, Mr. McQueary, and does not go public with it, and continues to sit by while other young boys are potentially at risk, is not innocent. You had an obligation. Coach Paterno had an obligation. Athletic Director Tim Curley had an obligation. VP Gary Schultz had an obligation. President Graham Spanier had an obligation. You were not to pass judgement or investigate, but to report what happened. And you failed. How many young lives were destroyed because of the selfish inaction of so many?
The full grand jury report is available on-line. It’s not for the squeamish. As a mom of four boys, it made my hands shake and my stomach turn. I don’t believe in vigilante justice, but the idea of hunting the bastard down and slamming his head into the pavement is unbelievably appealing. I pray for the victims who have suffered at his hands, they deserved an advocate, and were failed on so many levels. I hope they are able to heal.
© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2011