|Ashes of Empire
||[Nov. 11th, 2011|11:54 pm]
Some of this post comes from the post I made last night over on SFFnet, combined with things I learned today about the Penn State mess, and ruminations about what country it is that the veterans we honored today went out to save.
There's a timeline on events at Penn State, taken from the grand jury presentment, at The Prodigal Blog. If you haven't looked seen it, and find yourself locked out of direct access to the grand jury's statement itself (server overload, now requires a password--don't know if that will continue or not), you should take a look. I bookmarked it for reference. Also read the comments, as some commenters felt that Finlay went beyond the bare bones into opinion. For the record, I am going well beyond the bare bones into my opinion.
Football programs are, within university culture, their own empire. They cost more, but if they are successful they bring in a lot of money and create a lot of prestige and support The Nobel Prize-winning chemist, the Pultizer Prize-winning historian, the research lab that discovered fundamental principles of genetics, or invented new technology...they can't compete and most alumni could not name even one. But everyone knows the head coach and often the entire football coaching staff. Winning is everything, and everything accrues to the winners: privilege, power, and money. The colleges that are home to "great" teams get the TV contracts and the ticket money and the alumni support. So there's a new larger stadium, and lush practice fields and equipment rooms and highly paid staffs, from "athletic director" down to the people who maintain the uniforms. Whatever it takes to keep the athletes winning.
And what it takes to keep teams winning--like what it takes to make an insane amount of money--is a willingness to do anything and the ability sweep the less acceptable fraction of "anything" under the rug while smiling and looking people straight in the eye. Insider trading, downright Madoff-style fraud, or child rape...that won't help the bottom line, so it has to be covered up.
The supposedly sacred mantle of "sports" has repeatedly allowed high-performing athletes and coaches to fly under official radar where sexual misconduct (and other misconduct) is concerned. In the case of coaches, if they're married and have a "good reputation" (as winning coaches, primarily, but church membership is another coat of whitewash) then of course--because they are "dedicated" to helping the young, they're not scrutinized with the same care when they take in foster children or involve themselves in exactly the kinds of organizations that sexual predators try to infiltrate. Sandusky had a foundation supposedly to help troubled boys, and "mentored" those boys. And if there's a suspicion, or even certainty...a gentleman's agreement to take early retirement will prevent the need for any publicity and the reputations of both can be maintained.
Four instances involving Sandusky in the showers with an underage boy on Penn State property--in the showers of the athletic facility--occurred in 1999, 2000, 2002, and 2008. In the first instance, the boy told his mother, and his mother told the University Police, who did investigate, including the city police and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. Sandusky admitted to being naked in the shower with young boys and touching them inappropriately, but promised never to do it again. The university counsel advised that no action need be taken. The district attorney refused to prosecute, and the case was closed. Sandusky took early retirement, but retained full privileges of access to the athletic department's facilities. In 2000, a janitor saw Sandusky forcing oral sex on a boy, reported to a fellow janitor and then to his supervisor. The supervisor declined to pass the story on up, even though he went with the janitor to be sure of Sandusky's identity. In 2002, a graduate assistant in the department saw Sandusky raping a small boy anally. He "panicked" but told Paterno the next morning. Paterno told two administrative employees but described the act to them as "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy". These individuals did interview McQueary, the graduate assistant, who said specifically it was rape, but meeting with Paterno "They agree that nothing sexually explicit was described, that the allegation is not that serious, and that no crime had occurred." Sandusky was allowed to retain his keys and full access to university facilities in which he had already sexually abused boys. In 2008, a boy Sandusky was mentoring--including taking him out of classes at school--became reluctant to go with him, and told the school administrator about the sexual abuse. That administrator immediately informed the boy's parent, the police, and child welfare authorities. That triggered the grand jury investigation which led to uncovering the other incidents.
But for at least ten years--and probably longer, given the typical behavior pattern of child sexual predators--from 1998 to 2008--Sandusky had preyed on boys using Penn State's facilities. Failure to proceed with an indictment on the first reported offense allowed him to have the time and the space and (via his Second Mile foundation) access to boys and just about ensure that more would be assaulted. Paterno knew about the first incident. Paterno knew about the Second Mile foundation and that Sandusky worked with the boys there. Paterno knew about the third incident. Paterno (and the rest of the university administration and police) did nothing to protect children from a sexual predator. Paterno and the rest swept it under the rug.
The kind of money a big, famous, successful athletic program brings in makes a comfortably thick rug to sweep problems under. It affords the best lawyers, the influence with the press, payoffs to any victims that are inconveniently verbal. A lot of dirt can be stored under that thicker rug. And the longer you get away with it, the thicker the rug feels--all those nasty secrets flattened by time to the point where, surely, no one will remember the inconvenient details well enough to testify in court. Sometimes...sometimes the truth never has a chance, at least not until the guilty are safely dead with their reputations intact and monuments in place.
"The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small..."
And sometimes it happens that a stubborn little lump refuses to lie smooth and quiet under the heavy plush of wealth and power. Another of the several brave boys in this story found the right person to tell, and suddenly the rug was jerked aside, and there they are--preserved as if in a block of crystal--the nasty secrets, the decisions to sweep them under the rug, all still there, still alive and wriggling. Not gone after all.
What was once a mighty football empire, a name to reckon with, a name to be proud of, headed by a legend with a spotless reputation....is gone, burned in the fires of revulsion, disgust, shock, horror, amazement. And what's left, after all the maneuvering to hide one pervert's insatiable lust for children?
Was it for this that veterans served? Those aging survivors of D-Day and Bataan, of Iwo and Italy, those survivors of Korean winters and the long agonizing retreat, those who wasted away in prison camps, those who carried the wounds of war to their graves or live with them still? The Vietnam vets--did they slog through the paddies and toil up the hills for this kind of country, where money can buy anything, including a child's innocence and a man's self-respect? Is this what today's active duty service members and recent vets though they were sent into danger for? For Sandusky to have his little boys, for a man like Paterno to choose dishonest secrecy?
I don't think so. That wasn't the country I joined up to defend.
And finally...one of the things emphasized in good military training is doing the right thing when you see it needs doing. Initiative aimed in the right direction. Ritual disclaimers about nobody and no system being perfect. Bad apples in every warehouse. Still...athletic training is often said to produce character. But the evidence here is that it doesn't. Instead, it inculcates hero-worship and reputation-worship. Putting "the team" above everything means defending wrong if done by someone on the team. Why did the young, fit, strong young man who saw Sandusky anally raping the boy "panic" instead of intervening? Probably for the same reason given by a young sportscaster who, as a teenager, had known Sandusky as a Penn State coach and admired him--had stayed in touch with him, who revered him--a man who admitted he would have run away (but thinks he would have contacted the police later.) How do you confront a legend, even when the legend has morphed into a horror?
First you have to have the moral understanding that what you're seeing is abuse and needs to be stopped. Not just reported--stopped. He's hurting a child. You're the person who sees it. It's up to you to stop it. That's your mission: stop the rape, rescue the child. From here it's all straight out of training. Fast tactical assessment: one adult raping one child. No weapons. Empty room. Go for it. You're not going to miss the target; he's not prepared to fight an adult; you've got advantage in surprise, commitment, being fully clothed, and (if you know anything at all) skill. Chances are high that you'll be able to disable the rapist at least temporarily and get the child out and then to safety and medical attention and legal investigation. Had that been done in 2000, the 2002 and 2008 attacks would not have occurred. Had charges been filed in 1998, the next three (and possibly more, unknown) attacks would not have occurred.
The men who saw Sandusky abusing children--the two janitors and the graduate assistant, two different victims--all knew something bad was going on. They understood it was sexual abuse of a child. One of the janitors and the graduate assistant knew it should be reported. But they didn't think of stopping it cold, right then. And they did not commit to reporting it to the proper authorities themselves. It may be that many young men (or older men) do not know what they should do or how to do it. Maybe no one ever told them "If you see a rape in progress, stop it; if you can't stop it (many assailants), report it at once." It's time we told them, from boyhood. It's time that rapists--of children or adults--came to expect that other men won't ignore, won't walk on by, won't panic...but will intervene to rescue the victim. Will call the cops on them. I know plenty of women who would have charged into that shower room and gotten those kids out if they'd been in the position of those janitors and that graduate student. It's time for men to, as they say, man up.