Here’s the thing about sexual violence. Once you work in it, once you know how the system works, and once you have 1/10 of an idea just how dark, and terrible, and unjust it is — you can never go back to NOT knowing. You can never return to the land of, “Gosh, that’s terrible.” You become a permanent resident of, “It’s OUR responsible to know exactly what to do if someone we know is raped or we witness an act of violence.”
So, you can imagine the degree to which I had a near heart attack today when I heard about the breaking story of Penn State’s sexual abuse scandal.
If you haven’t heard, read up and yes, it is that bad. And it’s gonna get worse.
Trigger warning, the excerpts of the Grand Jury report are dark and disturbing in every possible way.
I spent a lot of time on Twitter, reading the latest updates, minute by minute. The cancelled presser. The bold op-ed on an entire front page of a Pennsylvania newspaper calling for Penn State President Spanier and head coach Joe Paterno’s resignation. The two officials who stepped down because they’ll likely be charged with perjury. And, of course, Jerry Sandusky, the rapist himself. As of just now, I read about 12 more people have come forward saying they were sexually abused in some way. That brings the number to 20 survivors.
There are so many angles to approach this clusterf*ck. The entire thing is a trainwreck of biblical proportion. The grotesque nature of the crimes. The people who KNEW. What was at stake. The choices that were made. Sports culture. An ivy league name. College football’s most winningest coach.
It seems like everyone’s got a detail they just can’t get over, and I’m not excluded.
My hang up isn’t on JoePa, Sandusky, Spanier, or any of those fools who would actually call themselves men and/or fathers who cared about NOTHING but the potential scandal and fallout and decided to sweep it under the rug. My hang-up is on the 28 year old graduate assistant who walked away from a 10 year old boy being raped by a grown man. He walked away, also saying that he believed both Sandusky and the boy saw him. I do not even want to imagine what that 10 year old kid was thinking as McQueary walked away and called his father.
“He was distraught.”
“He saw something horrifying.”
“He didn’t know what to do.”
I wonder if his reaction would be different if, say, he looked up and saw Sandusky beating this same kid with a bat. I would bet that he would’ve screamed bloody hell and tried to wrestle him to the ground. But because of the vile, sexual, and evil nature of what was taking place, he was stunned. But not stunned enough to not call his own father to figure out what he should do. May I offer his age again: he was 28 at the time.
If I sound judgmental, it’s because I am. Even if you’re stunned to paralysis, after about 10 minutes, once you realize you just witnessed a child rape, how do you NOT call the police? Or have some kind of thought resembling, “God, I hope that kid’s alright.”
I think my favorite response on Twitter was something like, “As a 104lb grandmother, there’s no way I wouldn’t have done everything to get that kid safe.” But a former football player, someone who had been bred to fearlessly throw himself in the path of other beastly men with brute strength to get a first down, a grown man, sees an act of sexual violence upon a child, and…what? That’s too scary to confront? And at NO point since 2002 did McQueary ever think the police should’ve been notified? Or any of those officials?
Is sexual violence so removed from the consciences of male athletes and coaches that when it does happen, there’s no tool available in their system to dismantle the situation? But something tells me that rape and sport culture, especially football, are not strangers. What are we teaching young men? In college culture, if a woman is raped, she was either asking for it or lying. If it’s a child, walk away.
If there’s one thing I know about college football, coming from a Buckeye fan who married into a family who schedules weddings around college football games, there’s no such thing as doing the minimum. Staff and athletes have mantras of honor, excellence, and going beyond, teamwork, brotherhood, achievement. Strength. No pain. Give it your all.
But when in the face of sexual violence, when the opportunity to save a young child comes, Mike McQueary walked away and made a call for help. The problem is, McQueary LEFT. He left. And the call of help was to help himself deal with what he saw and figure out what to do while that boy was left alone with a monster.
So, Mike McQueary, even if you never broke any law, even if everyone says you tried to do the right thing, even if Penn State somehow redeems itself in many many years from now, even if Spanier, Paterno, and others find ways to save face, there is one person that matters in this story and there’s no way to hide from your memory. For all the years of studying routes and back-up plans, defense and offense, for all the lifetimes spent studying plays, recovering fumbles, and coming back from adversity, you have to live with this basic truth for the rest of your life: you left that boy to deal with his nightmare alone.