What we learn from Penn State sex abuse allegations

Pardon the Eruption

By Terrance Gavan

Jerry Sandusky is the new poster child for what’s wrong in sports.

Sanduskyis thePennStatealum and coach who has risen to prominence over the past two weeks.

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In blurrier days. Sandusky. Files.

“Close to 10 additional suspected victims have come forward to the authorities since the arrest of the former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on Nov. 5 on 40 counts of sexually abusing young boys, according to people close to the investigation,” says the New York Times. “The police are working to confirm the new allegations.”

I’m not going to get into the details here. My stomach begins to churn violently every time I hear allegations of a shower encounter betweenSanduskyand a very young child.

The incident itself occurred way back in 2002, and the allegations were originally brought forward by aPennStategraduate assistant and now assistant coach, Mike McQueary.

McQueary says he brought the incident to the police,PennStateauthorities, and to the haloed Head Coach Joe Paterno, in a timely fashion. He says that he interceded on behalf of the young boy in the shower room. Paterno, an institution atPennState, was summarily fired last week. The guillotine is busy at Penn, and blood is spilling madly, appropriately, into gutters.

There are obvious comparisons to be drawn here. Not specifically because of the alleged acts, which are despicable. But more for the internal handling of the case.

Conspiracy, cover-up, finagling of details and fear are intrinsic components in this unseemly brouhaha. We hearken similar abuses by the Catholic Church and some disturbing examples from our own hockey annals, specifically the shenanigans of one Graham James. James is the man accused and convicted of the sexual abuse of several young hockey players.

More recently James has been targeted byNHLjourneyman, Theo Fleury, who says he is still considering bringing sex abuse charges against James.

Here’s what’s really bothersome about this latest eruption of institutional abuse. Goodness knows that the act itself is unpardonable, but consider the more disturbing fact that an institution, run by molders and shapers of young students, could indulge in such a callous display of inertia. It is absolutely unbelievable.

They are still hemming and hawing and dithering about the future of the program. But they did not hesitate to play the game without Paterno last Saturday. Students wore blue, in solidarity with the alleged victims. They did not boycott the game.

See, football is important. But not for the reasons the college will hand you. Specifically, that football is an integral part of the curriculum atPennState. It’s not. The game was played last Saturday because it was sold out, and becausePennStatefootball pops multi-millions of dollars into the institutional coffers.

And bam, that takes us right back to 2002. And a police report that “got lost” and a revered geriatric coach who placed football above principle. And friendship over the law of the land.

So I live in Haliburton. What’s the fuss?

Well, this week I had an opportunity to visit a couple of practices. It’s the easiest and most pleasant part of my week. Why? Because I see volunteer coaches offering insight and information.

Not all the lessons are intrinsic to the game. Some exist simply as metaphors for life.

Like hockey coach Vince Duchene urging a group of girls to go hard on each drill. Practice like it’s a game.

Or Dave Waito urging his Red Hawk basketball players to snap passes and run the drills with reckless abandon. “Have fun.”

My concern is for the coaches everywhere, and what scandals like this do to their stature.

Do they become more careful in their daily interactions with players? Do they start to second guess moments alone with players? Can they have a heart-to-heart with a player who comes to them with a problem?

Or is there always some niggling notion that, perhaps, I can’t offer the help this player needs, because the door’s closed or they’re alone in a room.

My concern?

What if a kid is being abused at home or elsewhere.

And his/her coach is the only person they trust.

And what if the coach, because of these rules, can’t offer that advice.

The moral of this rat-a-tat is not individual crime; but rather the corruption of the system.

It’s heart-breaking.

gav@haliburtonhighlander.ca and twitter.com/terrancegavan 

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