Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Honestly, the only way I can think to start off this column is by warning y’all: I’m about to piss all over a fresh grave. The dirt, the tombstone, the mourners’ flowers, any stuffed footballs weepy Nittany fans left, the lit candles, the tiny wooden crosses.
Penn State’s sex abuse scandal has been strangling the news for the past three months. To recap briefly, Jerry Sandusky — s00per awsum defensive coach for the Nittany Lions — was arrested and charged with over 50 counts of sexual abuse committed over a 15-year period. A temporary janitor and a graduate assistant reported witnessing Sandusky sexually assaulting two different boys in a Penn State football facility. Joe Paterno and other supervisors heard about these incidents in 2000 and 2002, but the inquiry only went public in early November of last year, leading to a tremendous shitstorm in the press and on Penn State’s campuses. Sandusky, Paterno, the head of Penn State’s public safety, the athletics director, the college’s president — all fired. Mid-season! Thunder, lightening, screams, riots, the wailing and gnashing of teeth, etc., followed.
Then, Paterno died.
eulogies coverage of his death more closely resembles Thanksgiving’s mauve gelatin; if you poke an article or a somber clip, it wobbles perilously back and forth, all while its component parts are totally unidentifiable and vaguely nausea-inducing. Take this editorial. After the author nails the proper response to this latest calamity– good fucking riddance — he changes his tone:
“Others have more compassion in their words.”
(“Others,” here, loosely translates to “apologists for child molestation.”)
pssssssss psss pss ps
Have a little more compassion. For Paterno. Because, after all, he was a football coach. He contributed so much to solving pressing international and domestic issues, such as the devastating hostilities between football and soccer as well as football players’ low graduation rates. He certainly didn’t lead an easy life, surrounded by rabidly adoring fans and piles of money. And, you know besides the whole Sandusky affair — he was a good guy. Devout Catholic! And the winningest football coach. Which matters. A lot.
Athletics culture in action, folks.
Okay, let’s try this. Let’s say we aren’t going to generate all that compassion for Paterno. In fact, let’s take that enormous excess of misguided compassion and INSTEAD have a little more compassion for survivors of childhood sexual assault.
I know this whole hypothetical is ridiculous. It’s not as if these survivors have any serious long-term mental AND physical health effects connected to their trauma. And it’s not like there’s any social stigma (survivors aren’t considered “broken” or “damaged goods”). If those things were real, well shit, wouldn’t we feel guilty about ignoring those people? Maybe not — sometimes, after all, they turn to substances and self-harm to cope with their trauma. Smirky moralizing about “addicts” and “attention whores” becomes considerably more difficult if we realize that
when debilitating psychosomatic pain or depression make it kinda hard to hold down jobs or keep up grades,
when these survivors swallow down shame and blame and guilt and self-loathing until it twists their throats shut, until they barricade themselves in silence and away from other people,
because that’s the best they can do,
THEN, the burden of compassion is really on us, to respect the ways survivors survive — or don’t. Suicide is always selfish, whereas you can get fired in the proceedings of an alleged child abuse case and still be a hero, especially if you’re an old white guy.
Think of everything else that would have to go! What about my faith in authority? It’s easier to just say they are crazy, which is a big word that I really don’t want to unpack, ever. Clearly, all victims DO process their trauma like on Lifetime, so I don’t need to question how stereotyping an entire group of people could be dehumanizing. Also, sports are really important. Really. Important. So is money!
pllp pllpp zzzzzzp
Other than daydreaming of defacing (defecating?) a tomb stone, I’m not fixating on Paterno and his legacy.
My thoughts dwell on the silent children and invisible grown-ups. I mourn for any survivors on Penn State’s campus, while riots and vitriol rage in defense of a violence that touched them personally. I am awed by the courage of the adults and youth who relived their pain in front of a grand jury.
This column is for those, any survivors.