Chico and the Man (chicoandtheman) wrote,
Chico and the Man
chicoandtheman

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What JoePa Did

The Man sez: JoePa, Joe Paterno, was like a living Santa Claus to me. He was this mythical figure, a symbol of goodness in humanity and nice guys finishing first or at least accepting defeat gracefully, but he was real. I know; I had the exceptional fortune of meeting him as the Penn State team was boarding their busses from the hotel for the Meadowlands before the Kickoff Classic in August 1997. I even remember the outfit I was wearing (blue and white, natch). That's how big a deal it was. My parents began indoctrinating my brother and me into the religion of PSU football since Infancy. No, really. My parents have a framed caricature of Baby Zack in a PSU uniform hanging in our front hall. I eventually stopped believing in Santa. I never stopped believing in JoePa.

I recognize, of course, that he is not blameless in the matter of Sandusky's alleged acts of child molestation. For the sake of argument, though, let's subtract him from this situation and consider again the actions of all others involved. The grad student witness, why did he not call the police himself? No, why did he not stop the abused he witnessed as it was happening? This is the part of the story that bothers me most. I once read Murakami's collection of interviews of victims and perpetrators of the 1994 sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway system and subsequently found myself no longer able to be merely an observer in moments of crisis. I have found myself doing things that might seem crazy, things like pulling over to stop a child from beating another child with a tree limb. I insisted we contact Child Protective Services when a student came to class with finger-shaped bruises on her cheeks. Stepping in is not optional in situations like these, so I cannot even begin to conceive of how this grad student was able to see an adult actually raping a child and then walk away. Was JoePa wrong to not notify the police in addition to the administrators to whom he reported the abuse told to him by the grad student? Who cares? An adult did nothing as he watched as another adult sexually assaulted a child. Let me repeat this because it seems as though a far greater issue has been drowned out while every media organization scrambles to shred the reputation of a man undoubtedly more upstanding than anyone else involved - A grown man did not invertene when he walked in on another man raping a child. A grown man did not call the police to report the man he watched rape a child. Read those two sentences aloud and consider again this situation. Joe Paterno did not molest eight boys. Joe Paterno did not walk into the showers at Penn State and see a man sexually assaulting a child. And even disregarding the degree as to which others were negligent in reporting or investigating the allegation of abuse, the person at fault here is Jerry Sandusky. Who? Who is Jerry Sandusky? Several coworkers actually asked this when JoePa's firing was brought up. Jerry Sandusky the person accused of the rape. Jerry Sandusky is the accused child molester.

When I saw the bruises on our student's face and how perfectly the shape mirrored my hand, I immediately showed my lead teacher. She immediately showed our school counselor and principal and they filed a report jointly to CPS. Well, I assume they did. I didn't stay in the room as they filled out the paperwork. I didn't call up CPS and ask how the investigation was progressing. I notified the people I needed to notify if I saw potential signs of abuse. I did what was required of me legally. I don't think these are identical situations. I was sure that my complaint was filed because I helped word the lead teacher's statement. I knew it was investigated because A social worker from CPS came to school to observe and talk to my coworkers and me. I have not idea what followed JoePa reporting the grad student's story to his administration. It is fully possible that the only evidence PSU administrators found at the time was the grad student's story. This is still enough as to require notification of the police but I do understand how someone might, fearing legal retribution for slander, stop short of this step. "Understand" does not mean "agree", of course. I understand how this situation came about. This is not like what happened with the Catholic church despite some easy similarities. One victim went to his parents, his parents contacted the police, the police began investigating Jerry Sandusky on accusations of child molestation. One (disgusting) man, not a small army of them shephearded by a complicit organization into new communities for decades. Jerry Sandusky gained access to his victims through an organization he set up himself. There are so many ways in which sexual predators protect themselves from being exposed. They exoploit not only their victims but the people in their lives who trust them. We all tend to think of the creepy guy in a windowless white van who lures children with stories of lost puppies. If only it were so easy. Children fall victim to people they trust, so the creepy stranger in a van isn't the one from whom children need to be protected. The sad truth is that predators are able to abuse victims because they are able to create opportunities for themselves. Predators are caught when children tell, not when an adult tells another adult. The best way to prevent sexual abuse is to make children aware of what constitutes abuse and that an adult crossing those boundaries is the guilty person. It sucks that all we hear about is what JoePa did or didn't do because this would have been a good opportunity to make children aware of their rights to be protected from abuse. And adults, please please please internalize this: Step in. There are plenty of times when we see something and turn away because maybe it's not our place to step in. When I pulled over to stop that kid with the tree limb, I wasn't thinking "Who am I to approach these children? Am I being a weirdo?" I was thinking about one of the interviews in the book about the Tokyo gas attack where one person noticed a suspicious odor didn't ignore it and, by stepping in, saved lives. Who knows what those kids would have done? A kid I knew in elementary school is in jail for murder because he was angry and brought a baseball bat to a fight in high school. Forget "see something, say something" and just step in.

Anyway, how was your day?
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