The Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal: Hitting Home on Many Levels for This Particular GeekMom

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NOTE: Much of the text of this post is from a post I had written for my personal blog on Thursday, November 10th, shortly after the university Board of Trustees made their decision to remove President Graham Spanier and Head Football Coach Joe Paterno.  Some of my emotions and information in this post have been overcome by events.

Only the most die hard of GeekMom fans might have realized what a Penn State fan I am.  Because of the first avatar image I had used for my first six months writing here.

This picture.  I have been a proud life member of the Penn State Alumni Association since I graduated in 1995.  My house is decorated all over the place, my husband and I have a closet full of sweatshirts, polo shirts, hoodies, football jerseys, and my sons have more than their share of posters, pennants, and stuffed Nittany Lions decorating their bedrooms.

But that pride has been bruised quite a bit this past week.

If you’re an American, unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s hard to miss how the web world is filled with the Penn State Athletics Sex Scandal. Or whatever you want to call it.

This incident makes me ashamed for all the times I’ve called Florida Staters the “Criminoles” and equated red sweater vests with “Liars”.  What Penn State’s leaders have done makes all those NCAA violations child’s play.  How could you, Penn State leadership????

The blogosphere has been filled with essays and op-eds from all walks of life.  My husband and I saw this particularly brash (but well written) essay by blogger John Scalzi, comparing Penn State with science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guinn’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”.  In Omelas, one youngster must suffer to keep the rest of the land in grace and harmony.  Might Penn State have allowed a few underprivledged youth to suffer to save their reputation as a university formerly famous for balancing academic and athletic integrity?

Via e-mail, Twitter and Facebook, I’ve been commiserating with my PSU classmates.  We’re convincing each other that the university will dust off, move on and continue to move forward.  We’re pondering amongst each other what the leaders must have been thinking to cover up something like this, whether JoePa will receive any traditional retirement benefits, and all those great Linebacker U players who regarded Sandusky as a mentor right up through this year! The alumni association is pleading with their membership to continue support to the association and university.  Ironically, we received an Penn State Annual Gift letter on Tuesday.  We typically give a modest amount every year, specifically targeting the meteorology department and AFROTC.  This likely won’t change…those departments still need support.

But other thoughts have entered the mothering side of my brain.  I had these same thoughts in 2008, which is when we learned through our local TV station that my oldest son’s soccer coach in Apex, NC was arrested on sexual misconduct charges.  Thoughts like “How can I trust any other athletic coach?” and “How do I know that ANY adult my child interacts with isn’t a sexual offender?”

So now I get nervous thoughts about my kids going off to school each day, going off to college in the future, headed out to Boy Scout camp — without the parents — by the time they’re in 5th grade.

I don’t want to go through life like this.  I want to trust people.  After all, I trusted a 19-year-old with my sons for a few days in September while my husband and I traveled to Omaha on AF business, right?  I trust my sons on a school bus every day, I trust them at birthday parties, at school, and at those occasional trips they take with friends’ parents.  Other parents trust me with their kids.

Fortunately, Penn State is attempting to make amends at lightning speed.  This past weekend, in conjunction with their final 2011 home game against University of Nebraska, Penn State joined forces with the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), set up the #ProudPSUforRAINN campaign, and set a $500,000 fundraising goal.  In 96 hours, as of this writing, this fundraiser has generated over $315,000 already!

So the decisions have been made swiftly, hopefully the justice system will work out and if found guilty, Jerry Sandusky will never be allowed to interact with youth ever again.  Some of my friends and colleagues are wishing for much much worse, but I won’t go there with this audience.

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13 thoughts on “The Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal: Hitting Home on Many Levels for This Particular GeekMom

  1. You should be ashamed of calling the noles “criminoles” since they represent an actual native american tribe, but I guess the penn staters are getting a bit of humble pie now.

    1. A Nole Fan: The term “Criminoles” had nothing to do with the native American tribe (I understand and sincerely respect FSU’s efforts to keep the Seminoles/Chief Osceola as the official mascot while the NCAA seems to constantly deem it insulting), but regarding the 2009 cheating scandal.

  2. What all this discussion seems to be missing is that grown men, including a janitor and an assistant coach, WITNESSED the rape of a child in progress. Did they yell? Run in to intervene directly? Call 911? Take any direct action to stop a crime? No. They considered their careers and spoke to a supervisor later (not the police). What happened to adults acting like adults?

    I teach nonviolence. It’s all about courage of one’s convictions and sticking up for others even when it puts oneself at risk. I wrote recently about HOW to intervene when any of us witness a child being bullied or abused, a woman threatened, any such situation. The long history of violence has taught us that when we don’t act, violence escalates.

    Here’s the piece, http://lauragraceweldon.com/2011/10/13/get-involved-when-its-none-of-your-business/

    1. Air Force leaders receive “bystander intervention” training. This is similar — if you see something, you are guilty of not reporting it.

      I didn’t include it in the post, but my husband reported his PhD advisor to NC State University in 2007 for trading favors for grades with his female students. In other words, perform fellatio = you will earn an A. Dave wasn’t a witness, but two women confided in him the same story in separate circumstances/separate classes. When he reported it, NCSU was extremely non-committal about the whole thing. We’re convinced that because that particular professor brought in a lot of research money, the university was hesitant to act.

      Dave didn’t rest until that man never set foot on campus — he put his research/candidacy exams on hold for 8 weeks while working on this issue. He lost so much sleep worrying about the safety of the several women who had confided in him about this.

      1. I assert fairly regularly that geeks, on average, have a higher quotient of honor and integrity than non-geeks, because to be a geek one has to have committed themself to being public with opinions that are uncomfortable to society but are perceived as too important to hide.

        Dave rocks. It is a sad comment on our society that his actions are outstanding, but they are, and I applaud him. Thank you for sharing this additional witness.

      2. Thank you thank you thank you Kristen for the kind words, and for recognizing that this is a rather unpopular opinion but I felt it needed to be said. My husband had asked me NOT to disclose the NCSU story in my post, but then he became more public about it as more and more Penn State alumni started asking “What on earth did JoePa do wrong?”

        My husband said “JoePa failed to do the right thing. He didn’t do the WRONG thing, but it wasn’t right either.”

        You made my day!

    2. Great piece. It seems to me that nonviolent intervention, as you described it, is an excellent way to get to what is the root of the problem, rather than to confront the surface symptoms.

      I’ve gotten away from my studies, but I recommend the late George Thompson’s Verbal Judo approach– learning to defend yourself by assertiveness in what you say and do. I studied first how he taught it to law enforcement when I worked in security, and it is essentially another way to look at nonviolent intervention.

      (I’m not summing it up well… please, do have a look, let me know what you think.)

  3. As the pedophile scandal continues to unravel at Penn State University, it is important to recognize other interesting connections in this story:

    Wendell Courtney: Courtney represented both Penn State University and “The Second Mile” charity founded by indicted pedophile Gerald Sandusky.

    “According to the Grand Jury presentment, Courtney was at the least made aware of the allegations against Jerry Sandusky that were leveled in 1998. ”Schultz testified that the 1998 incident was reviewed by the University Police and “the child protection agency” with the blessing of then-University counsel Wendell Courtney,” it reads.

    “Courtney was then and remains counsel for The Second Mile.” (Source)

    The 1998 accusations, which involved Sandusky showering nude with a 10 year old male at Penn State, were apparently covered up and not prosecuted. Ray Gricar did not prosecute the accusations, in-spite of witnessing Jerry Sandusky confess to them. Gricar disappeared in 2005, along with the hard drive from his computer, and has since been declared dead.

    Courtney, being aware of such actions, and representing both Penn State and The Second Mile, which claims to have helped over 100,000 youth, finding all of this OK is another scandal in and of itself. At the very least, he had the responsibility to advise Penn State and the Second Mile to terminate their relationship with Sandusky, or face exposure from numerous civil lawsuits from the future victims of a confessed pedophile!

  4. Geek Mom, I would think that you are smart enough to realize that this scandal is just a symptom of sports hero worship where people choose to look the other way when these events occur. The bigger issue is that we need to concentrate on personal fitness, science and technology. I understand there are similar issues with abuse of power in academia, but we need to get away from the whole “Bread and Circuses” mentality that is taking our society down the drain.

    1. Thank you for your comment Erik,

      There have been many op-ed pieces written about those involved thinking they were in a “superior” place than to have to worry about such things. That whole “It’s not my problem” syndrome. This article made the rounds among the Penn State group pages on Facebook this week and I agree with it: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/15/opinion/brooks-lets-all-feel-superior.html?_r=1

      For the Penn State Alumni community, and what the media isn’t really emphasizing, is that Joseph Paterno “the man” is much much more than just JoePa “the coach”. He stood for academic integrity when the NCAA was willing to look the other way, he donated millions to the university about 10 years ago and there’s now a wing of the main university library named “The Joseph and Susan Paterno Library”.

      We are trying to resolve how this great philanthropist didn’t take the time to consider the victims of this alleged crime. He could have stopped this years ago — as far back as 1998 when the first allegations were made! His word would have stopped all this in its tracks, because he has that influence in the Department of Athletics, the University, and even the whole friggin’ state of Pennsylvania!

      We all feel betrayed and saddened, but I personally feel this was the right decision. When Paterno didn’t do the “right thing”, it was time to stop leading.

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