Thursday, November 10, 2011

inaction is, by its very nature, a type of action.

 "We were supposed to fight for the people who couldn't fight for themselves"
-Lance Corporal Hal Dawson, A Few Good Men

I'm a big fan of college football. I'd be hard pressed to give much less of a shit about professional football than I currently do. I don't have a "team." I'll watch the Super Bowl, sometimes. But college sports is where my interest largely resides. (Same with basketball, though admittedly, I haven't paid much attention since the days of my youth, watching Iowa Hawkeye basketball with my dad. It will pique my interest in March for about a week, then I'm bored again. Which is ironic, because I understand the rules of basketball much better. I understand football, yes, but I understand basketball better. I think maybe it's the game day atmosphere. There is nothing quite like a sunny fall day out at the stadium with beer and burgers and camaraderie.)

My team of choice is, naturally, my alma mater, the forever-underdog Iowa State Cyclones. We are (for now) in the Big 12 conference. Across the state, our "big brother" team, the Iowa Hawkeyes, live in the storied Big 10 conference. My dad is a huge, huge Iowa fan. So I know a bit about the Big 10 and the schools therein.

You know what I'm getting at, don't you?

This mess at Penn State makes me sad, and makes me sick. I've been largely avoiding the discussion of topical things (you'll note I've said nothing about the Occupy movement, though believe me, I have thoughts. Maybe I will. I just haven't read enough yet to put my words together. My thoughts are still marinating.). But this, I'm not going to let slide.

For those of you that were under the same rock that I was under until last night, it comes down to this: Jerry Sandusky, one of the former coaches under legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, is a sick sonofabitch who has allegedly (as one article said: you have to say "allegedly" to avoid that risk of libel, because: innocent until proven guilty, though in my mind, there is nothing innocent about this man) been sexually abusing young boys for at least the last decade. He conveniently ran/founded a charity that gave him easy access to his victims, and even after he vacated the Penn State football program (under speculation that it was a "resign and we'll cover up your mess" situation), was able to utilize campus facilities for his own ends.

The biggest incident in question, which has resulted in the termination of Paterno, Penn State President Graham Spanier, and I believe the athletic director Tim Curley, was a specific incident in which a then-grad assistant (who is still on the coaching staff - though for how much longer, I don't know) by the name of Mike McQueary happened to be in the locker room and witnessed Sandusky anally raping a ten-year-old boy in the showers.

Let that sink in for a moment.

McQueary, understandably freaked out, fled and told Coach Paterno what he had seen. He did nothing to intervene or try and stop Sandusky. Now, giving McQueary the benefit of the doubt, he probably panicked. How do you even process something like that when it's happening before your eyes? However, Sandusky was, what, 60? McQueary was 28? He's going to have the physical advantage. Oh my God, do something. If it were ME, there's no way that I would have been able to do anything to intervene, because I'm fairly small and admittedly weak and would obviously be at a huge physical disadvantage. But when you're a healthy 20-something male involved with a nationally recognized football program, you are not at that same physical disadvantage. But, okay. Let's say he just panicked and fled. I could see where that would happen, I guess.

He told the head coach. Great, tell everyone you can. Including the goddamn police. In fact, you should have done that first. Done it on your way out of the locker room. It was 2002. You probably had a cell phone. Even the shittiest of cell phones in 2002 were able to call 911. You just saw an old man sexually assaulting a young boy. How do you live with yourself for letting that slide? For not doing something?

Let's switch focus here for a minute to the other side of this shitstorm. Paterno told his higher-ups, Curley and Spanier. Great. As a mandatory reporter, he did the bare minimum as required by the law. The more I read about Paterno, his shtick was apparently one of moral values and integrity. Ironic. So Paterno relieves himself of the burden and Curley and Spanier tell Sandusky he's no longer allowed to bring young boys on campus. Essentially "do what you want, just don't do it here." Swept it under the rug.

And that was all. That was all any of them did.

The authorities were not called, there was no investigation, and Sandusky got away with the raping of young boys. In fact, the lack of action on the part of any of these enabled Sandusky to continue to violate countless others. He could have been stopped, he could have been put away.

JoePa apologists will argue that he did what he had to do and that he's being unfairly punished. Here's the thing: Paterno didn't really have "higher ups." He ran that damn college. There was probably no more powerful man in the state of Pennsylvania. The administrators were higher in the chain in name and paper only. Paterno had the real power at Penn State. He had to know better. And when nothing happened... he shrugged his shoulders and went back to his daily routine. 

But he didn't see it, it was just second-hand information. Yeah, great. He's still a MANDATORY REPORTER. Child rape is not something anyone should take lightly. (I mean, shit, any rape shouldn't be taken lightly, for that matter.) The proper move would have been to call the police. The police would have taken it from there, there would have been an investigation. If they hadn't found anything, the matter would have been put to rest. If they had - and they would have - Sandusky would have been hauled off, and JoePa, you could have continued your illustrious career until you were ninety years old. No one could touch you. That job was yours for as long as you wanted it. Was.

And McQueary. What the hell? How does that guy sleep at night? I understand being scared, I understand being panicked... but not only did you fail to save that boy that night, you failed to save other boys in the future by making sure that monster was properly locked away. You could have redeemed yourself, and you didn't.

The whole thing is just sick. Which, I'll be honest, I am so desensitized to everything these days, but even this got to me. (I'm not even going to TOUCH the recent flurry of accusations that Sandusky was pimping out these boys to rich donors. I don't know how much truth there is to that, and honestly, I can't even wrap my head around it. WHO DOES THESE THINGS? I just... no. I can't even process that.)

It's horrible and awful and that in and of itself was bad enough... but the fact that the speculation is that they shoved all this under the rug in order to preserve their football program? That's just detestable. It's FOOTBALL. These are people's lives and their children. Children that you are supposed to protect, look after. Not just your football players, that's not where your responsibility ends.

The announcement of Paterno's firing led Penn State students into the streets in protest. I had to quit Twitter for the night before my head actually exploded and just go to bed, but last I heard, they were on the point of rioting if not actually doing so. I thought our 2004 VEISHEA riots were ridiculous and embarrassing: though at the heart of it, it was the culmination of tense police-student relations and hoardes of drunk people - many of which didn't even go to ISU - in a small space.... but these students were protesting something else entirely.

I'm conflicted about Paterno; my personal opinion is that he's a batty old man who probably isn't even fully aware what is going on anymore, but "in hindsight" he regrets not doing more. Well, no shit. Do you actually regret it, or do you just regret the fact that it blew up in your face? Is he a fall guy? Not really. He's just as much to blame as McQueary, Curley, and Spanier. Inaction in the face of an atrocity is almost as disgusting as the actual act itself. They had a responsibility to those boys and they failed them.

Was it a knee-jerk reaction to boot Paterno after 46 years as head coach at Penn State? Maybe. Did he deserve it? Probably. Do we, the public, have all the facts? No, we don't. We have the grand jury indictment and the knowledge that Paterno did nothing. Spanier and Curley are perhaps the more reprehensible of the set. Their choice of action was to simply tell Sandusky not to bring kids to campus anymore. (I still can't get over this, by the way.) Whose burden is it? Does it matter?  Every single one of the men involved in this had a societal and moral obligation to act, and they all passed the buck until there was nowhere left to pass it, and then stuffed it in that closet in the back that nobody ever opens.

If you've ever taken a psychology class, you will have inevitably heard of the "bystander effect" which essentially states that the more witnesses there are, the less likely it is that someone will step up to provide assistance, through another quirk of human nature they call "diffusion of responsibility." Someone else will do it. It's not my job. It will get taken care of. Someone else will help. But what happens when no one does?

The case study that they always use is that of Kitty Genovese, a young woman in New York who was stabbed and beaten on the doorstep of her apartment building. Her screams and cries for help were largely ignored by the complex full of people. Those that heard her likely presumed that that "someone else was taking care of it." Nobody did, and her attacker returned to finish the job, raping her and leaving her to die.

This is another one of those things that's always stuck with me. Which is why if I ever see shit go down, you can bet your ass I'm calling 911. I would rather them receive multiple reports and tell me that it's being taken care of, then just letting it slide. It's also why I called the local police on my upstairs neighbors a few apartments ago. (That, and it was 2am and the fighting WOULD NOT STOP). It was worse than usual one night and I didn't know what the fuck was going on up there and domestic abuse is rather uncool, so in the equation of safe > sorry, I made the call, they checked it out, things quieted down, and I felt better knowing I had done something.

In the face of bad shit, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Always.

Anyway, they diffused the shit out of that responsibility and this is what happens. There are always consequences to the decisions we make and the actions we take... even if those actions are simply NOT ACTING.

Ironically, if their goal was to preserve the image and reputation of the Penn State football program, their intentions backfired. Penn State's reputation is tarnished. Time will tell how irreparably. I mean, it's not the fault of the current players, it's not the fault of the other coaches, or the fans, or those who knew nothing of what was going on behind the scenes. But they're all intertwined. The fates of everyone are intertwined, in some way or another. They're going to have to deal with the fallout of this mess... I wonder how much they will idealize their beloved JoePa then?

The icing on the cake - not to make this rant even longer - was fucking Ashton Kutcher, who, I'm sorry, I cannot stand even on the best of days, opens his mouth on twitter with "How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste".

There was a moment of silence while everyone processed that, and then there was a backlash. (A backlash so intense that Mr. Demi Moore actually got off Twitter for a while).

In poor taste? Are you fucking kidding me? Was he paying attention?

Apparently not.

My friend Jordan retorted with "As an actual Iowan, I find YOU in poor taste." Which I could not have retweeted the shit out of more. Just... go the fuck away, Ashton Kutcher. You may have been born here, but we do not wish to associate with you. I felt embarrassed for all of the Iowa fans - they may be our rival, but... yeesh. (Though, part of me is curious as to what the reactions are from the rest of the Big 10. Though I'm pretty sure the unanimous opinion is that, well, it had to be done.)

It's worth noting, also, that Ashton Kutcher spends a hell of a lot of time trying to lobby against child trafficking... ironic that he'd support someone who aided in the cover up of rampant pedophilia. Just saying.

Though, again, as dim as I perceive him to be, I'm willing to bet that he had simply no idea what was actually going on with the situation and just spouted off his dumbass mouth before collecting the facts. I still think he's an idiot, even with this allowance of the benefit of doubt. See? I'm a very generous person.

Now, I must try to return to my zen happy place because it was much nicer there.

[NOTE: As of this particular writing, McQueary is still on payroll for Penn State and is being allowed to coach on Saturday. Though the buzz is that they're going to keep him "hidden" in the press box for his own safety. Yeah. The other rumbling is that they're keeping him around to mitigate the damage - ie, if they let him go, he could talk, and bring down the entire university. I do love me a good conspiracy theory. I wonder what else they're covering up? Oh, God, something tells me we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg on this one. The shit hath hitteth the fan, my friends.]

[NOTE #2: just got a text saying that if I'm worked up about this now, to just wait. I guess there's a new bit of something about ready to break... but he wouldn't say what it was without a second source confirming it. SWEET JESUS. Maybe the world DOES need to end in 2012. Would serve us all right.]


Ashley, the Accidental Olympian said...

I clearly have been living under a rock, because MODG's post was the first I'd heard about this, and then I read your post, and suddenly I feel ill.

Every once in a while I feel like I have the horrible re-realization that the world is truly a sick place.

This whole story breaks my heart. On so many levels.

Tori said...

Amen. That is all.

Stacey said...

Oh. Em. Gee. Thank you so much for this post. It said all I was thinking and so very much more. I have even unfriended a person or two on FB who wrote sympathetic things about JoePa. Sorry, but if you even remotely feel that way, I don't want to hear from you ever again.

As for Note #2, my curiousity has certainly been peaked.

Stacey said...

I just realized that I used the wrong word. I meant to say that my interest has been "piqued," not "peaked." Kelly, Goddess of Grammar, please forgive me.

Terra said...

The whole thing is just so upsetting. How there were so many witnesses and people with suspicions who did nothing just amazes me and goes to show how much power plays into life. After Sandusky, I'm pissed at McQueary. That he saw a young boy get ass raped in front of him by a 60 year old man and yet did nothing to stop it is despicable. That he walked away without taking that boy with him just makes my heart hurt. It's like watching someone drown without doing anything. I'm little, but I guarantee I would have done something to stop it. I'd have taken the boy with me, not left him in the care of a sexual predator to be abused further. There are a lot of guilty people involved in this case, but to see it and do nothing? That makes him guilty of crime as far as I'm concerned.