“I didn’t realize that Penn State was a Catholic university…that’s the funniest thing I ever heard,” this was someone’s status update on Facebook on November 9th. Someone else responded “LOL.” It took a minute for the words to sink in and then a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach started to creep upwards toward the back of my throat. It had been a frequent feeling since Sunday, November 6th, when I had first heard on ESPN about the Sandusky alleged child sexual abuse case at Penn State.
My thoughts immediately flashed to a gay friend of mine, a former lawyer in Albuquerque, New Mexico living with AIDS. He grew up in the Catholic church, but he is Catholic no more, another nameless, faceless victim that people joke about when they cleverly find new ways of brushing aside the thousands of boys and girls who were “special friends” of Catholic priests. I read on, I can’t help myself and the bile continues to rise into my throat as others on Facebook defend the 84-year old icon who is the face of Penn State football and for many, Penn State herself.
I don’t understand how you can know that a defenseless 10-year old boy was raped in your locker room and yet you go to bed every night for nine years and you sleep. You have a son of your own! Perhaps I cannot be unbiased because I have sat through too many undergraduate and graduate courses in Psychology, including the Psychology of Trauma. Perhaps I cannot be unbiased because I have too many friends who have been touched by the soul-destroying horror that is sexual abuse. Perhaps I cannot be unbiased because for a time I worked at a job where I was required by the State of Florida to report any suspected child abuse.
For those who say that Joe Paterno fulfilled his legal duty that he did what he was supposed to do, think for one moment about the 10-year old boy. When that adult saw him being brutalized, that 10-year old boy knew in his heart that it would never happen again because someone would save him, so he went home and he waited for a savior who never appeared. And it happened again, and again, and again.
I am not saying that Joe Paterno is a horrible individual, nor am I saying that there is not blame to go around, but Joe Paterno made a horrible mistake. He placed his friendship with Sandusky, the football program, and Penn State ahead of the welfare of this child. This decision, and his decision every day, thereafter, not to contact the police shows that he is a person with deep moral flaws, not someone to emulate, not someone to idolize, not someone to build a statue to.