The sex scandal involving former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky has taken over the headlines, bringing to light a story that spans over the course of a decade, a period of alleged misconduct that went on way too long.
A state grand jury report accuses Sandusky of inappropriate sexual contact with eight young boys dating back to 1998, and as of this afternoon a possible ninth victim has come forward.
The resignations of Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and executive VP Gary Schultz amid indictments for lying to the grand jury about their knowledge of the situation are the latest in a series of dominoes that have fallen, and the next to fall could be the resignations of head coach Joe Paterno and president Graham Spanier, only adding to what could now be classified as a modern Shakespearean tragedy.
My interest in this case is not only because of the nature of the crimes, but also because of the inaction of those involved from the alleged eyewitnesses to those who were informed and failed to contact law enforcement.
It would be easy to string these men up on the cross of public opinion, but the truth is inaction like this is not that unfamiliar in our current society.
This may be the first time that a sex scandal of this magnitude has rocked the sports world, but we have seen similar incidents in all walks of society ranging from politics to schools to even the church. And there were some who knew about it and did nothing.
This case hits home for me personally because I have stood in the shoes of those who either witnessed or knew the details of the situation.
In my younger years, I witnessed one of my teachers having an improper relationship with a handful of my classmates. There was blatant favoritism, improper conversations and an uncomfortable closeness between teacher and student that was clearly apparent. I never saw any acts that took place behind closed doors, but I couldn’t help but notice that the things I saw publicly weren’t normal.
One day I was involved with the same group of classmates in an incident that took place in this teacher’s classroom. Instead of punishing the entire group, I was singled out by this teacher. When I asked why I was the only one being punished while the others were let off the hook, I was thrown out of class and the teacher called my parents.
When I got home and tried to plead my case about the situation to my parents, they told me I was just bitter because I was the only one caught. They couldn’t understand why I suddenly had such a serious conflict with a teacher who taught my older siblings, but never had any problems with them.
But you don’t understand, I pleaded. He treats those boys differently than the rest of us. The problem was I just couldn’t put my finger on why. And since I couldn’t, my claims that something was amiss went unanswered.
Years later my mother told me a disturbing story she heard from a colleague: her son had the same teacher I had problems with and had a similar conflict. But his had gone so much deeper than mine.
He had discovered the teacher was inviting students to spend time with him outside of school and had made improper sexual advances toward them. When the student found out and confronted the teacher about his possible impropriety, he was punished. It was later learned this improper conduct spanned back a number of years, including the time when I was in his class.
My initial response was anger toward my parents. I blamed them for not believing me when I saw the warning signs. The thought that these acts could have been prevented had someone just believed me made me increasingly bitter. I felt wronged for being ignored, and I felt like the boys who fell victim to this man were wronged also.
The story at Penn State dug up all of those old, angry feelings. It made me angry for those young boys who were allegedly victimized. It made me angry for the parents whose cries for justice were met with silence. And it made me most angry toward those who could have stopped it, but didn’t.
The truth is stories like this are not exclusive. They happen everywhere and are ignored due to fear of retribution, disbelief or even apathy.
The truth is we as adults, as institutions, as a society, have failed.
Our children have fallen victim to such deviant behavior that would turn the empty stomach of a competitive eater, and the indifference of the adults empowered to act makes them just as guilty as the perpetrators themselves.
Shame on us.
Our failure as a society to protect the innocent at the expense of self-preservation should make us question whether those charged with shaping the minds of our youth are fit for the task. If the adults instructing our children can’t be trusted to protect them and provide the example they should follow, who can we trust? More importantly, who can they trust?
I’m not a parent, but I do have nieces, nephews, godchildren and young cousins whom I love as though they were my own, and the man who lays a hand on them might not live to tell the story if I have a say in the matter. But it should be that way for every child.
It is up to us to protect our children and do whatever it takes to keep them safe, even at our own expense.
The old proverb says, it takes a village to raise a child.
But who is left to raise our children when the village has failed?