Things have certainly been shaking up in Pennsylvania lately. For those unfamiliar with the story, Gerald “Jerry” Sandusky, a retired assistant American football coach at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) and multiple American football award recipient was arrested this month and charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of several young boys (including at least one victim who was about nine years old) over a fourteen-year period, from 1994 to 2009.
Hearing this story was so painful for me, and when I saw and read the grand jury report detailing the evidence against this despicable man, I was truly shaken up and disgusted. I felt anger. I felt sadness. Many times, people who abuse children in this way are those we least expect.
What makes this story even more appalling is the fact that more than one person was privy to this man’s abuse. A few people reported to administrators within the university, but nothing of significance was ever done. They let the monster continue to prey on innocent young boys under the guise of mentorship.
This story got even more deeply saddening for me when I heard about students rioting in Penn State because head coach Joseph “Joe” Paterno was fired in relation to Sandusky’s crimes. Paterno is the “legendary” football coach of the university's football team who has been with them for 45 years and has led them to many victories. I understand that students were saddened to see him go but highly disappointed that so many would ignore the fact that this so-called “legend” knew what his assistant coach was up to and did very little to ensure that it was dealt with as it should be.
I recently wrote a post on my blog about the need to celebrate character and true relational love vastly more than all the fame, fortune, awards and accolades in the world. By doing almost nothing, Paterno was essentially saying that it was more important for Penn State to keep its “great” assistant coach than for so many young boys to be spared the sexual and psychological abuse that they would endure. For that alone, he is no legend at all-at least to me.
I bring this case up here because it is time for us to move towards the eradication of a culture of silence in our own communities. In too many of our countries, these issues are swept under the rug far too often. Domestic violence is accepted as “one of those things” and no one talks about the despicable, sick and disgusting men (and women) who prey on little children and steal their innocence far before they even understand what has been done to them.
Instead of facing these issues head on, we deny that they exist or we bury our heads in the sand like an ostrich. Too many secrets, too many hushed words, too many whispers….too many lives destroyed! I know that, sadly, in many of our countries, the legal system is not what it should be. However, it is my belief that legal system or not, if there is a collective decision to rip those skeletons out of the closets and bring what is in the darkness into the light, there will certainly be a restoration of so many lives.
Enough with the secrets, enough with the lies, enough with allowing victims to suffer in silence. It’s time for us to hold on to what is truly legendary-and that isn’t power, fame or money. Instead, it is the restoration of communities in which victims are counseled and encouraged, not scared into silence; and in which the morally corrupt are confronted, regardless of the size of their bank accounts. I know it will be a slow process, but so long as it is also a steady one, we can ensure that these things will, one day, be mere memories from the past.