Reflections on the Penn State Tragedy And Protecting Boys
As a father of three young boys, the actions of former Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky give me nightmares.
As an alumni of Penn State University I have been in shock and mourning over the tragic revelation of young boys being sexually abused. Tragedy upon tragedy.. some of these young boys could have been saved from a lifetime of pain had university administrators cared more about the children then they did about protecting their personal and collegial reputation.
Today, my wife sent me a link to a talk given by Tim Henderson. Tim is the Campus Director for Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ). As a former four-year student-leader for CCC at Penn State, I am also proud of the message Tim, and others, are bringing to the campus.
Since my own words are absent, please allow me to share some of Tim’s words with you from a talk he gave entitled, “A Deficiency of Love“.
As the graduate assistant entered the locker room doors, he was surprised to find the lights and showers on. He then heard rhythmic, slapping sounds. He believed the sounds to be those of sexual activity. As the graduate assistant put the sneakers in his locker, he looked into the shower. He saw a naked boy, Victim 2, whose age he estimated to be ten years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky. The graduate assistant was shocked but noticed that both Victim 2 and Sandusky saw him. The graduate assistant left immediately, distraught.
Pause there. Don’t answer out loud, just think to yourself, What would you do if you were the grad assistant? Try to imagine what it’s like to see that. What emotions fill you? Shock, disgust, fear, empathy, anger, confusion? This isn’t a random person doing the unimaginable. It is a man you admire, a man who coached in your program for years raping a ten-year old boy. Ask yourself, what would you do? Would you flee, would you intervene, would you call the police, would you call your parents or your boss? You may not know what you would do, who plans for that sort of thing? Maybe ask, what do you wish you would do?
Notice, by the way, that the boy saw him. The boy saw a big, huge guy who could- who could- rescue him.
Here’s what the grad assistant did do: Went straight to his office, called his dad to ask for advice, then went to his dad’s house.
The next morning, a Saturday, the graduate assistant telephoned Paterno and went to Paterno’s home, where he reported what he had seen.
Joseph V. Paterno testified to receiving the graduate assistant’s report at his home on a Saturday morning. Paterno testified that the graduate assistant was very upset. Paterno called Tim Curley (“Curley”), Penn State Athletic Director and Paterno’s immediate supervisor, to his home the very next day, a Sunday, and reported to him that the graduate assistant had seen Jerry Sandusky in the Lasch Building showers fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy.
The graduate assistant heard back from Curley a couple of weeks later. He was told that Sandusky’s keys to the locker room were taken away and that the incident had been reported to the Second Mile. The graduate assistant was never questioned by University Police and no other entity conducted an investigation.
All the incriminations for university officials surround this chain of events. It’s about this chain that Curley and Schultz are being charged with perjury, and it’s about this that Paterno and Spanier have been fired. The question everyone is asking is, “Were they obligated to do more?” In particular, were they obligated to call the police? When the graduate assistant saw with his own eyes, the rape of a ten-year old boy, was he obligated to intervene?
Let’s move on to victim six. This is also troubling, but not as graphic as victim 2.
Sandusky had befriended victim 6 through the Second Mile and one evening took him on campus to work out and spend time together.
Then Sandusky began wrestling with Victim 6, who was much smaller than Sandusky. Then Sandusky said they needed to shower, even though Victim 6 was not sweaty. Victim 6 felt awkward and tried to go to a shower some distance away from Sandusky but Sandusky called him over, saying he had already warmed up a shower for the boy. While in the shower, Sandusky approached the boy, grabbed him around the waist and saidI’m going to squeeze your guts out.Sandusky lathered up the boy, soaping his back because, he said, the boy would not be able to reach it. Sandusky bear-hugged the boy from behind, holding the boy’s back against his chest. Then he picked him up and put him under the showerhead to rinse soap out of his hair.
Victim 6 testified that the entire shower episode felt very awkward. No one else was around when this occurred. Looking back on it as an adult, Victim 6 says Sandusky’s behavior towards him as an 11 year old boy was very inappropriate.
Okay, so that’s what happened. Not as absolutely awful, but still pretty bad.
Now, here’s what happened when the boy got home:
When Victim 6 was dropped off at home, his hair was wet and his mother immediately questioned him about this and was upset to learn the boy had showered with Sandusky. She reported the incident to University Police who investigated.
Detective Schreffler testified that he and State College Police Department Detective Ralph Ralston, with the consent of the mother of Victim 6, eavesdropped on two conversations the mother of Victim 6 had with Sandusky on May 13, 1998 and May 19, 1998.
The mother of Victim 6 confronted Sandusky about showering with her son, the effect it had on her son, whether Sandusky had sexual feelings when he hugged her naked son in the shower and where Victim 6′s buttocks were when Sandusky hugged him. Sandusky said he had showered with other boys and Victim 6′s mother tried to make Sandusky promise never to shower with a boy again but he would not. She asked him if his “private parts” touched Victim 6 when he bear-hugged him. Sandusky replied,I don’t think so… maybe.
At the conclusion of the second conversation, after Sandusky was told he could not see Victim 6 anymore, Sandusky said,I understand. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.
That’s a stronger response don’t you think? This mom immediately calls the police, cooperates in a wiretap, confronts Sandusky to his face, interrogates him about the details, confronts him about the effect he had on her son, forbids him to see her son again, and rebukes him, telling him never to shower with another boy again.
Now that that’s all on the table, let’s get to the heart of what I want you to consider.
Why was her response so much stronger than that of the grad assistant?
Was it because she has more power, more authority?
No. In the first instance there were some very powerful people involved. But in this, just a mom. If her son was in Second Mile she probably was a single mom, maybe not very wealthy or connected to influence.
Was it because there was a graver offense?
No. In the first instance there was actual rape. In this one there was just outrageously inappropriate activity in a shower.
Was it because the mom had more evidence to go on?
No. In the first instance the witness saw the rape as it was occurring. In this all the mom had to go on was wet hair. Wet hair. That’s it. But it was enough…
Guys, I want to suggest to you that what we’ve seen on campus this week, at multiple levels in the organization, and maybe in our own hearts as well, is a deficiency of love.
Who should be fired? Who should be in jail? I don’t know. The cops and judges and the Board of Trustees- that’s their job. But do you think that if the witnesses, coaches and administrators had loved the boys who were being raped, they’d be quibbling about obligations? Love compels action. Love moves to protect.
I’ve heard of students questioning what this means about the value of their degree, or the future of the football program. Really? You’re young. As I’d had conversations with many I’ve realized that your moral compasses are still being built. You’re still filling in the blank spaces about what’s right and wrong in different situations. But can I just poke you a little bit? Those questions should be way down your list. If it was your little brother, your son being raped in a shower by a 50 year old man, would those questions even occur to you?
I have a ten-year old son. I don’t often see my kids naked, I just don’t have occasion to. But curiously on Monday night I was in my sons’ room when they were getting ready for bed and I saw Max naked. He’s a little guy. He is a fragile, vulnerable, easily exploited little guy. You don’t have kids yet, so this part of your world hasn’t come online, but I couldn’t help but imagine Max pressed against a shower wall. And there is no one there who loves him. There’s someone there. Someone who abuses him. And there’s someone there who sees him, and whom he sees, and then footsteps.
Do you know what you are doing when you are ten years old pressed against a shower wall getting raped? You’re hoping that someone comes to your rescue. And he does. Some 6’4″ 280 pound guy turns the corner and you see him and he sees you, and he walks away, and hope turns to despair.
There’s no one there who loves him.
I want to suggest to you that the shame engulfing Penn State is a deficiency of love. Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbors as much as, and in the same manner that, we love ourselves, is the chief responsibility of our life…
Friends, the chief responsibility of your life is to love others as you love yourself. But you don’t. And neither do I.
Jesus Christ is the only one to walk the earth who fulfilled that. He is the Good Samaritan. Jesus is the one who moves toward the broken and binds them up. He is the one who pays whatever it costs to heal their wounds. He is the great lover. He said,
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. And then he did that.
He loved radically, gave himself away. Not just figuratively, but literally. He laid down his life as a sacrifice on the cross to protect us from the punishment our sins deserve. He loves you just as much as he loves himself.
To the extent that this penetrates your heart it will transform you and make you love better. It will give you not just the affection of love, but the courage of love. A love that moves to protect. That moves into danger. A love that doesn’t measure obligation, but that suffers so that the beloved won’t.
One last thought: Don’t deflect the shame of what has happened and is happening here at Penn State. Let it into your heart. Grieve. Mourn. We are Penn State. If we will accept the glory of that we must also accept the shame. This is a shameful moment. Embrace it. Let shame do its work. People are eager to get past this; to restore Penn State Pride. Don’t rush this.
Let shame produce softness and repentance in your heart. Perhaps God will give you the grace to see in others’ failure to love, your own failure to love, so you can confess it to him, and be cleansed, and experiencing his love, become a better lover. We love because he loved us first.