Why you should care about the Penn State fallout
I like college football, probably more than any other sport except the Olympics. I watch a lot of college football; I read books about the BCS clusterfuck; I follow the standings. I’m invested in college football. I am not invested in Penn State though, and I view this situation as an outsider.
What I know, what I believe, is what happened was shockingly, devastatingly, heinously WRONG. I know that these are just allegations and that in this country we have a (often pretend) presumption of innocence. However, I also believe that young boys aren’t likely to claim sexual assault from another man just as a joke, especially when it appears the situation was systemic. There are also witnesses, witnesses who, for reasons I cannot understand, didn’t do what I believe they are morally compelled to do – tell someone, call the police, protect a child, follow up. Most sexual assault victims stay quiet their entire lives. There is a stigma, and speaking up about (alleged) rape is a brave, brave thing to do. And I am absolutely certain that the victims did not speak up to ruin a college football program, to end the career of a highly touted football coach, to tarnish the reputation of a well-respected university. They spoke up because they had to, because it hurt, because those kinds of secrets eat away at your soul. And those kids (and now adults) are the people who we need to keep as the focal point of this story.
Now, the stickier stuff. I’ve seen numerous people (mostly those connected with PSU) comment about how JP did what he was required to do, report the situation to a supervisor. I’ve read a lot about hindsight. I’ve watched people spout about fall guys and trying to keep the focus on the person who (allegedly) committed these crimes. I know about psychology and groupthink studies and bias. But I also know right from wrong, and I believe it’s our responsibility as a society to say that what happened to those kids and the actions that followed were wrong. I know that it’s easier to pass judgment once more information is known. I know from studies that people often think someone else will handle it. But I also believe that it’s very public situations like this that give us the best opportunity to reflect on our values as a people and make changes to protect those in the future.
When you see a CHILD being raped, you call the police. You try to stop the abuse. You stand up and say No, vocalizing something the child may be too weak to say himself. You don’t wait until the next day to report it to your supervisor. And when you see that same person with a young child, you ask questions, demand answers, call the police again. When those things don’t happen, we have to hold those people accountable. Yes, they aren’t the pedophile. They did not rape a young boy. But we live in a society (one that highly values the individual) where we should expect that we can rely on others to help us in our time of need. If my house is on fire, I would hope that someone would call the fire department and not just assume that we have it under control. If a kid is lying motionless on the side of the road, I would hope that you would stop to find out what is wrong and call an ambulance (this has actually happened to me, and thankfully the kid is now ok). If a child is being raped in the locker room of a prestigious college football program, you call the fucking police.
Honestly, what I find so difficult about this is that those close to the university, those who love JP and Penn State, are (in some cases) defending actions that in any other situation they would find morally reprehensible. When the sex abuse scandal unfolded in the Catholic Church, did you vehemently defend the priests involved and those who knew but did not act? Or did you believe that we hold others accountable for failing to protect the children that might come after? If this was any other situation, would you try so hard to defend what is truly indefensible? I admit, I feel sorry for JP and the president of the university. It’s a really shitty situation for them too. But I feel worse for the young boys. And as a mother and a member of our society, I believe we have to demand accountability (and I don’t mean accountability necessarily in the legal sense), not just for our leaders, but accountability for anyone who is in a situation where they should do what’s clearly right and yet fail to act. As a mother, I want to believe that there are others who will protect my child when I am absent. But I cannot expect that if we don’t learn from these situations. If you see a child being raped, stop the abuse. Call the police. Follow up. There are sometimes consequences for doing what is right. But often, the consequences are far worse when you don’t do the right thing, and there are a lot of people who are learning that, in a very difficult way, today.