Penn State and the Culture of Silenced Violence
Although I originally abstained from blogging about the breaking Penn State scandal, I did lend my story to CBS Morning News to raise awareness that this scandal was merely part of a larger culture of silence. I was waiting for when the truth finally surfaced to blog and it doesn't surprise me one bit that the proof of a Penn State cover up is not nearly as heralded as the conviction of Sandusky. I believe this is due to the widespread support for Joe Paterno (which may be diminishing) and Penn State's football program (which rightfully faces some serious review).
Former Penn State Football coaches Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno
For those who need a refresher, the first incident that raised eyebrows was brought to Penn State's attention in 1998 when a mother complained about Sandusky showering nude with her young son. At that time, President Dr. Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz avoided inquiry into the matter. Then in 2001, Assistant Coach Mike McQueary was an eye-witness to the sodomy of a young boy at the hands of Jerry Sandusky. This incident occurred in the locker room showers at Penn State. McQueary did not intervene, but made a noise to alert Sandusky someone was present - hardly a hero moment. After seeking counsel from his father, McQueary went first to the then head coach, Joe Paterno, to report what he witnessed.
<Side note: Both McQueary and Paterno are what the Clery Act refers to as Campus Security Authority (see pg. 74), meaning they had a federally-mandated legal obligation to report sexual violence that comes to their attention. As someone who has personally provided training on Clery Act requirements through the Clery Center for Security on Campus, I am confident that a Big 10 college like Penn State provided training to its staff on their obligations. >
McQueary then went on to report to Curley and Schultz what had happened later that week. Besides the lack of reporting to police by any official notified, it is interesting to note that the action Penn State did take was to forbid Sandusky to bring children onto the campus any longer, sending the obvious message of, "just don't do that here."
Penn State students protest firing of Joe Paterno instead of letting him retire at the end of the season.
Source: The Matador Sports
The scandal was made possible by many staff at Penn State, but also by the local district attorney. Evidence about the sexual abuse was present back in 1998, but no charges were brought and no reasoning given for the lack of interest in stopping a pedophile. Thankfully Sandusky eventually received life for his crimes, though not so appreciated by those who were left to be victimized from 1998 to 2011(at least 8 boys). So how could something so horrible be allowed to continue for so long when so many people with power could have intervened? The same could be asked regarding the Catholic church sexual abuse scandal (see documentary "Deliver us from Evil" for background; free on netflix) that covered up many more individuals committing a multitude of sexual abuses. The answer to both questions is faith.
Source: AP Photo - Matt Slocum
When I speak about faith, I am most certainly not speaking about believing in God, rather I mean the belief in our social institutions and in iconic figures given god-like status. It's difficult to bring up Joe Paterno for many since he has an amazing football legacy (third most winningest coach of all time). Also, he died before being interviewed about his involvement in the scandal, allowing the faithful to remain willfully ignorant (though the Freeh Report has significant evidence of his awareness and participation in the cover up). Additionally, he coached the sport that our nation reveres, if not worships: football.
Here is where I admit I am not a football fan. This is not because I don't enjoy the sport - my father use to teach me pass routes in my backyard as a child - it is due to my intimate knowledge of the culture in college sports. In particular, unacceptable violence by football players and teams is condoned routinely on college campuses. I knew it before I became a victim, and I certainly will never doubt it now.
Source: Center for Public Integrity
Having been a NCAA Division I college athlete, I am directly aware that male athlete are more valuable (literally) in a college's eyes than any other student. I know this for a fact because of the year long "investigation" the University of Wisconsin (UW) took into the two male athletes that sexually assaulted me that resulted in nothing. I am not alone in being a female athlete denied justice for the sake of preserving another sports team, the case of Beckett Brennan highlights the same issue. The university knew in her case that she was not the only victim, but allowed the other woman to leave their campus without taking action (something universities will no longer be able to do according the the Title IX Guidance released by OCR in 2011). Despite the fact that my attack was by crew team members, I was always warned about the football team at the UW. One of my high school friends was even raped and abused by a football player, Booker Stanley, while I attended. Apparently, after his release from jail he was still allowed to play football for one of the lesser University of Wisconsin teams.
There is a culture, both on campuses and in our society at large, that worships sports teams and the athletes or coaches that make them successful. The Penn State scandal should be a wake up call to such fans - sports is not the ultimate - people's lives, health and safety should matter more than a winning season.
I truly appreciated Rick Reilly's piece on ESPN admitting that he too formerly admired Paterno to his current chargin. Reilly however is more conscientious than the mass of Penn State sports fans since he had also supported Penn State's firing of Paterno. I also am impressed that Nike took a stance and removed Paterno's name from its child development center. What I am not impressed with are the many who still want to praise Paterno and preserve the football culture at Penn State. To you I say:
-Anyone who has knowledge of child molestation being facilitated under his nose by a member of his staff does not deserve to be honored. You can still think he's a great coach, but don't hold him up as a great man.
- Continue being a football fan and cheering for Penn State, but accept any consequences that the program will suffer as a result of over a decade of sexual abuse being covered up. Realize your entertainment is not truly worthy of preservation in the face of the greater social message against sexual abuse and in particular, against college acceptance of sexual violence.