Monday, November 14, 2011

Penn St. sex abuse scandal forces parents to ask kids tough questions

A group of students at Penn State collect money for childhelpusa.org outside Beaver Stadium before an NCAA college football game against Nebraska Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011 in State College, Pa.

She  is the mother of a 10-year-old boy and they live in a big football town where Saturdays are all about the high school team. The mother is not much of a sports fan, though, and had to call a friend Saturday to find out where she could find the Penn State Nebraska game on television.

“It wouldn’t have dawned on me to ever watch a Penn State football game,” she was saying, “until now.”

She has not followed the story about sexual abuse there, about a coverup that will someday be discussed in this country as a Watergate of sports, as a sports fan. She has only followed it, with growing horror, as a parent. And when the game was over on Saturday, and we had seen these ridiculous pictures of people who seemed to be mourning a football coach and Penn State football more than they were the children who were victimized, she sat down with her son.

“I asked him if he knew what had happened at Penn State, and he said no,” she said. “And then I explained it to him as best as I could, a more specific conversation than we’d ever had on this subject, the one that all parents have as a way of trying to keep their children safe.

“And at the end of it, I told him again that if something bad happens, if you think somebody is ever trying to do something bad, tell me. Tell your father. Tell a teacher. But tell somebody who can do something about it. Really, the conversation was about how you can’t stay silent in the face of evil in the world.”

We only begin to find out about the silences at Penn State, about what kind of coverup they had there, what the people in charge knew and when and why they didn’t do more when first warned that there might be a monster in their midst. Watergate was a small, dumb burglary, but one that eventually threatened the foundations of our government. The crimes at Penn State, against children, are much worse, so much worse that they become another part of American life that makes us all wonder if everything is unraveling in front of our eyes.

On Friday night, the President of the United States said that we can’t merely “rely on bureaucracy and systems in these kinds of situations. People have to step forward, they have to be tapping into just their core decency.”

I first walked into a New York newsroom a long time ago. This is the worst story to come out of sports in my time in the business. And as bad as it is already, it will get worse. The silence at Penn State in the presence of evil has now become a roar much louder than you get at the huge football stadium there, where the tears of the people in the stands Saturday seemed more for Joe Paterno and for one another than for sexually abused children. Then later we saw one of the saddest and dumbest pictures I have ever seen on television, two men kneeling on Paterno’s front lawn as if in prayer. Someday we will find out why years after the first red flags were waved on this Jerry Sandusky, once Paterno’s top assistant, nobody still thought to call a cop after one of Paterno’s graduate assistants saw Sandusky allegedly rape a 10-year-old boy against a shower room wall.

No shout was raised that night, when a child was obviously too scared to cry for help, even when he saw Mike McQueary, the graduate assistant, looking right at him. McQueary waited a day to tell Paterno. Paterno waited another day to tell his athletic director. You know the rest of it, at least what we know of it so far. Now even Tom Corbett, the Pennsylvania governor, says that it was McQueary’s responsibility to intervene that night, to do more than he did.

They all should have done more at Penn State. Shame on all of them. Over time, after the lawyering and spin-doctoring and investigations and trials and lawsuits, we will get some of the answers we seek. And if we find out that there was some kind of coverup at Penn State, if these cowards really were more worried about protecting Penn State football than abused, defenseless children, you tell me why they get to keep playing football at Penn State.

No wonder the Nebraska coach, a decent man named Bo Pelini, wondered out loud why the Penn State-Nebraska game was even played on Saturday.

It was Justice Louis Brandeis who once wrote that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants, electric lights the most efficient policeman.” But why did it take so long for the lights to come on at Penn State? We live in a world, because of the evil in it, where we are told constantly that if we see something, it is our duty to say something. How in the world, in the face of evil like this, did all these men lose their voices, and their way, at Penn State? 

0 comments:

Post a Comment

Share

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites