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Fall Of The Mighty?
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Fall Of the Mighty?

I'm not one ever get caught up in current events, pay much attention to the news, or get emotionally engaged by things that aren't directly affecting me. Pin it on being self-centered if you like; I prefer to think of it as efficiency through apathy. If I can't affect the outcome directly or change things then I choose not to care.

I've found that next to impossible to do amidst all of the recent scandal and shock emanating from State College, PA over the last week and a half. Not so much from being mortified at the general occurrence of the sexual abuse behind the controversy because, sad as it is, it's something that happens somewhere seemingly on a daily basis if you look hard enough. There are tragedies the world over of an equal or greater scale that get received with far less outrage and far less coverage, which is certainly not to make any less of the horrible thing that has (alledgedly) happened to a multitude of young men==boys really.

My biggest issue with the whole matter is tied to the ones that didn't stop it when given the chance; these school officials and coaches that presumably had at the very least an idea that something was wrong, at worst knew there was abuse taking place and thought that it could be hidden under the same guise used when the university's board was forced to clean up and relieve so many of their jobs “in the best interest” of the school.

I readily admit that I, like so many others, have had my mind made up by public opinion and little snips of information from court documents as to guilt of this Mr. Sandusky. And it certainly isn't fair, but there's an undeniable stink to all of the information that makes it too hard not to believe. I've spent a fair amount of time as a coach myself, working with kids aged 8 to 18, and it's generally understood that one of the most basic and obvious lines never to be crossed is that physical contact boundary.

It's not something that should have to be said, though it's standard in most school associated coaching positions to have to take a yearly refresher course on proper behavior with the kids you're working with. Touching, and specifically the type that this man has openly admitted to on a nationally televised interview of all places, is a very big don't. It''s the type of stuff that results in automatic dismissal, and the school knew about this type of behavior as long ago as 1998 when Sandusky was barred from showering with boys. That alone is already enough to scream potential guilt, since that is a rather pointed restriction.

All of this led me to question the others involved though, specifically the coaches since they are the ones most directly tied to this. It made me wonder what exactly is the role of a coach. The echoing cry over the last several days has been that of “following the chain of command”, “I did the right thing”, but always it ends in passing responsibility for protecting these kids on to someone else. Forgive me if I'm out of line, but I've always thought that as a coach your first priority is to teach. Not far behind though is your priority as a role model and protector. Why do you think Mike McQueary ran to Joe Paterno for guidance on how to handle this? Joe the great man, Joe the moral icon, Joe the perennial father figure.

The point being, as a coach you are responsible for the safety of the kids you work with and responsible for the actions of those you employ. Once you've worked with a kid in that capacity they stop being just another child and become your child. It speaks volumes to that point when you look at all of Paterno's former players that have gone on to coach for him, and all of the former players that speak of him like a hero (several even now that he's become pariah instead). He's just looking after his kids. But if that's the case, why didn't he offer better advice when one of his kids came to him with a story of rape? Why didn't he do what a moral pillar of a coach is supposed to do and see to it that any disruption in that system was stopped to ensure the continued safety of his wards?

By now we've all heard the people involved in this fiasco talk about having tough decisions to make, and we've heard the talking heads on TV wax poetic about how we can all want to think we'd all do the right thing and stop it or report it and make sure it never happened again, how they all say you don't know how you'd respond until put in the same situation. We've heard “I wish I had done more”.

Perhaps I'm naïve, but I can't grasp how there would be any decision to make. What decision is there to make? The only scenarios I can imagine would either, “well, this kid's been violated and I could report it and save any number of others this same fate...or I could ignore it because I don't want the school I love to be blemished by this” or “I'll ignore this because I don't want the hassle of being a trial witness. Let someone else find out and be the hero”. That's all I can come up with, and both are absurdly selfish, and I can't realistically picture anyone being that far strayed from empathy. But then I guess I can't grasp desiring the affections of young boys in that manner either.

As for not knowing how you'd respond, that's an excuse for an inexplicable lack of genuine decisiveness if I've ever heard one. We all know the type of people we are. We either stand up in protest when presented with something we know is unjust, or we run from it like cowards. And even then, once the personal danger that might accompany witnessing the deed in its occurrence has passed, how can anyone that isn't also a monster not give in to conscience and do something afterward to ensure no one else has to go through that? How can you not make the connection that speaking out would save other kids?

I've had the burden of this so called “tough decision” myself before. Not the same context involving sexual abuse, but similar in that it involved a younger girl unable to defend herself against her assailants. More precisely a preteen being mugged by four much older boys with broom sticks and bats looking for money and a pink bike that presumably could sold. Even at 15 years old I had the basic decency to understand that stepping in was the only option, no decision required and no worrying about repercussions. I did it because it was wrong to not do anything. Becoming the new target in the place of someone that had no chance of self-protection, the beating that came with it, and the will to seek help—real help through police afterward—was not an issue. The weakness displayed by these men that have spent their lives preaching strength of character and body is shocking, reprehensible, and ultimately depressing.

When did we slip so far that grown men lacked the ethical conviction to stop something so heinous? Something that any child would have the decency and courage to stand up against if put into their shoes? I can't help but feel that the ones that did nothing or did too little, the ones that allowed this to continue under their noses when they could have done something (anything) to stop but didn't, these cowards are just as guilty through their negligence and voluntary ignorance as the man who did these things because they know better and their job is to protect.


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