Saturday, July 14, 2012

Stop making excuses for the inexcusable

This was a letter I sent to The Duke Chronicle, the newspaper at my alma mater, after our winning basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewki (aka Coach K) who is lauded similarly to Paterno, defended Paterno in the New York Times last November

"As a proud Duke alum who is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I was appalled and disgusted by Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s attempt to make excuses for his fellow Coach, Penn State’s Joe Paterno, for not contacting police when informed of a horrific act by then assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. (New York Times, The Quad 11/14/11) Coach K wants us to give Paterno a pass based on his age (“one thing you have to understand is that Paterno is 84 years old) and thus the “immense changes and how social issues are handled in those generations.”

For a man who in June taped a show for ESPN with Paterno about “ethics and integrity and issues related with college athletics,” Krzyzewski’s moral ambivalence and his insistence that Paterno remains a “great man in a horrific situation,” makes clear that he needs to revisit his understanding of integrity, ethics and greatness.

When teaching writing workshops, I always start with character, because exploring human nature is what makes writing such an endlessly fascinating pursuit. Plot discussions focus on throwing stumbling blocks in the character’s way, so he or she is forced to make choices, because in the immortal words of JK Rowling’s Albus Dumbledore (drawing on Sartre) “It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

The point Coach K doesn’t understand, or perhaps chooses, willfully, to miss, is that it’s the choices one makes when faced with such a horrific situation that prove whether one is truly great, not the number of football games or basketball games won.

Joe Paterno has achieved many wonderful things in his 84 years. But like many who could have achieved true greatness, he had a tragic flaw, one that resulted in children who might have been saved being sexually abused. His legacy is rightfully tarnished. Coach K shouldn’t be in the game of making excuses for the inexcusable."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Penn State, leadership and faith

I did a presentation at the CT Writing Project's Young Writer's Institute this morning, and met a High School student who asked me to sign two of my books. She told me she particularly loved CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC because her mother converted from Catholicism to Islam when she married, so there are times when she's sitting in church feeling like Jussy. She also told me about going to a family event at the church her mom grew up in where the priest yelled at her mother to leave and told her she no longer belonged there.

We talked about Confessions and told her that in my experience the people with deep faith, rather than dogmatic faith, are the most accepting, because they recognize we we all pray to one G-d so we should look for the commonalities we share rather than the rituals that divide us.

I've been thinking about the definition of "a good person" recently, especially how one can go through the motions of being a faithful, "good" and even lauded member of the community - a much admired leader - yet beneath the surface have a flaw that makes mockery of this.

I speak, of course, of the late Joe Paterno.

At the time of his death, Paterno was lauded, particularly by members of his church, where he was a regular.

The Dumas' one a fellow Penn State professors and the other, a senior lecturer, lauded Paterno thusly:

"It's not only a great loss for us of a great benefactor and a great man," Mr. Dumas said, "but our country lost. He showed us an example of what it is to be a coach and a teacher."

"And human being," Mrs. Dumas added.

Mr. Dumas continued, "I'm sorry that we could not have had a better ending for this great man. When Victor Hugo died in Paris, everybody ran around the streets shouting, 'Hugo is dead! Hugo is dead! Our hero is dead!' That is the ending I would have liked to have seen for Joe Paterno, because he is our Victor Hugo."

Yesterday, the results of an independent investigation into the sexual abuse scandal and cover up by Louis Freeh was released. I made the mistake of reading it while I was eating lunch. It was truly sickening.

“Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University — President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno — failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade. These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities. They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims.

Moreover, after McQueary witnessed Sandusky raping a boy in the shower in Feb 9th 2001 and reported it to Paterno on Sat Feb 10th, Paterno waited to inform Curly and Schultz until the following day because he "did not want to interfere with their weekends." Very Christian of him. (seethes)

Paterno then interfered when the plan was to report Sandusky to Dept of Welfare. An email from Curley to Schultz and Spanier says he changed his mind "after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe (Paterno) yesterday."

As a result, Sandusky went on to abuse more children and damage more lives.

Who would make such a choice? Was that the choice of a godly, church going man? Was that the choice of a "great man"? Someone who is "an example of a coach and a teacher"?

No. It's the choice of someone with hubris.It's the choice of someone who would rather sacrifice the lives of innocent young men for the "greater good" of his legacy. If it pricked his conscience at all he could point generosity as a benefactor for good causes and all the fine young men (the ones who weren't as poor and vulnerable and thus escaped Sandusky's clutches) to graduate from the football program at Penn State, the ones who helped to earn him his all-time Division 1 football wins record.

Paterno, the Dumas', the higher leadership of Penn State, the students who rioted when Paterno was fired and the folks who raised a statue to this man, are all in denial, and denial is one of the biggest factors that allows sexual abuse to continue. The perpetrator is, of course, the most guilty party, but those around the perpetrator who choose denial are complicit in the crime.

Sandusky could have been stopped in 1998. Paterno lied to the grand jury about his knowledge of that incident. Sandusky could have certainly been stopped in 2001. But the ego of a supposedly "great" man, a man held up as an "example"caused him to make choices that resulted in the abuse of more children.

And did Paterno go to his grave feeling bad about this? Apparently not. Two days ago, a never published op ed he wrote before his death shows his continued arrogance and denial. It is all about protecting his legacy with not a word of compassion for Sandusky's victims. They don't even rate a mention.

I only started speaking publicly about my own abuse last year, and part of the reason I have continued to do so, and now have offered my services as a speaker to The Center for Sexual Abuse Crisis Counseling and Education is so that both teens and adults understand the importance of destroying the culture of complicity and denial. Denial is my sworn enemy and as Winston Churchill said, "whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

We shall fight it in the religious institutions, we shall fight it in the Universities, we shall fight it in families, we shall fight it in schools, we shall fight it in the military, we shall fight it in Congress, we shall fight it in our communities, until our children our safe.