The Penn State child molestation (for want of using an even stronger word) scandal enters its second week on the national stage after years and even decades of an apparent, sinister cover-up.
Yes, as a Philadelphia Phillies featured columnist, I would rather write and think about the Jonathan Papelbon signing and what it means for the team in red pinstripes moving forward, but even thinking about it feels kind of empty right now.
My passion for Major League Baseball and my hometown team will almost certainly return, but the Penn State fiasco—and we may only be at the tip of it—is slow to exit my consciousness. I don’t know if this is ultimately a good thing.
Awareness is good—a sense of helplessness is not, and we’ve been privy to a lot of both.
The most shattering aspect of this is that, as unspeakable as the (alleged, for now) horrors were and are, we may have only seen a small piece of it. For every child and family that did bravely come forward, how many more were there whose right to innocence and normalcy were forever destroyed?
As much as we suspect that there was a cover-up participated in, and perhaps initiated by, a former iconic coach (Joe Paterno), just how far-reaching was it?
Will we ever get all the details, and will all the principles of this sordid scandal meet justice in the right measure? Every instinct says “no,” but there is a hope that this will play out with a great sense of fairness and justice.
So, what is there that even an optimist can reasonably hope for?
1. Heightened Awareness and Sensitivity to Child Abuse
During the 24/7 coverage of this spectacle, we have seen and read a lot about the allegations against Sandusky, and the Grand Jury Presentment—which would have even been tough to read if a novel—has been readily available to all.
Obviously, the firestorm around Joe Paterno was very intense, as he is not yet the target of any courts except for the very powerful one of public opinion. It is natural that he would be the story—he is the winningest coach in Division I history, and he had carved out a reputation for high moral standards (whether deserved or not) over 61 years at the same institution.
Given his iconic stature, it was somewhat reasonable for many to regard Paterno’s own Greek tragedy, if you will, as the top headline.
Although we await more details, the hope is that this case will continue to shine more light on both how to prevent and report future cases of child abuse.
Just one incident is way too many, and the Grand Jury identified eight victims, and surely more will come out. Again, it is a good thing that more victims will likely step forward—it is a tragedy that there were so many victims.
As with most of you, the Sandusky scandal has hit me hard, even if I have never been the victim of such unthinkable abuse. I am not an expert, but there are many experts and solid professionals who are working earnestly to help children who are in such need of support.
The hope is that their efforts will be highlighted and supported, and information will be reported that may help other would-be victims avoid such a fate.
The statistics are quite alarming, as a quick read of the Advocates For Youth website will aver. For a variety of quite understandable reasons, a very small percentage of abuse victims ever speak out, and even when they have the courage to do so, a small percentage of these predators are tried and prosecuted.
The effects of such abuse are quite profound, as well.
I try to be hopeful that the media will keep its eye on this ball, just as much as it does the lurid details of the cover-up.
2. That Penn State Step Up and Make Protecting Children Its No. 1 Cause
Penn State’s very good name has been raked through the coals, and many once-proud students, faculty, workers and alumni are now feeling quite ashamed.
As citizens, whether or not we are parents, this scandal has rocked all of our worlds, and we don’t really know how to come to grips with it. We are depressed, still somewhat disbelieving, and we are outraged on so many levels.
So, now what?
What will Penn State now do to take ownership of this issue after its veil of secrecy put so many children in harm’s way?
I hold out some hope that Penn State, even if will never recover its former legacy, will take the lead in researching and promoting this issue. There must be a way to make chicken salad (or better) out of its present ingredients.
3. Our Better Angels Will Emerge
No man or woman is totally evil, and none is totally pure.
The simple statement, “It’s only human nature” has a whole variety of connotations—positive and otherwise.
We have seen human nature already play itself out at its worst, its best and every shade in between.
Because of this, some writers have even found the strength and the moment to give their very own personal reflections in hopes that will not only help their own healing but serve to help others as well.
Human beings do have the capacity to find nobility in even our darkest moments. Let us hope that the tone will continue—or begin—to be respectful, thoughtful and sensitive.
4. We Will Choose Our Words Carefully
As a proud wordsmith who writes with and about our lexicon, I have always been struck by the power of words and have always had a desire to use them in responsible, creative and interesting ways.
I probably get stuck on semantics more than most, but I also resent it when people say “It’s only words.”
I write this even as I don’t know how many people will read this column, but hoping that there will be a million intelligent readers.
It is my hope that we will not seek sensationalism and exploitation at every turn. One would hope that writers—even on this very essentially open forum that is often given to such motives—will rise to the occasion to do some justice to this issue.
In that light, I cringe whenever I read or hear about the Penn State “Sex Scandal.”
A sex scandal connotes what happens in Hollywood or even among politicians, usually among consenting adults.
The sordid allegations against Sandusky depict something a billion times more serious. If true, this was about one sick, depraved man who willingly and repeatedly sexually abused very young boys using every advantage at his disposal, including his physical size, his position, status, intimidation tactics, bribery and threats.
Along with the hideous cover-up, this is a story about child molestation and abuse—and worse. Let us not employ words that obfuscate this.
5. Everyday Heroes Will Emerge
At so many turns, the severity of this fiasco may have been averted or lessened if adults had acted in keeping with what should have been their priority—the welfare of the children that this alleged monster/molester had founded an organization to protect.
This is too cruel to be ironic, and the presentment itself tells many stories of the adults who never: a) stood up to Sandusky; b) stood together with eyewitnesses; and c) stood up for our children.
The hope is that even as the national focus is trained on the next big story (however lurid), that lessons will be learned to prevent another tragedy of this magnitude.
Sadly, there may always be monsters living among us—some of whom are supposed to be our very pillars—but the hope is that if anything good comes out of this horrific tragedy, that we will now be better educated and equipped to stop and prosecute them before they prey upon our most beautiful assets.
Our beautiful children.