Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Getting it would be a good start

A story in the Boston Globe's sports section Monday on the continuing saga of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse allegations was particularly disturbing.
The story talked to men who played for or coached with Sandusky during his one year at Boston University in 1968. No, it didn't bring forward any new charges or graphically describe the old ones.
No, the disturbing part was quotes like these:
"The Jerry Sandusky we knew was an outstanding human being and coach," John Williams, a defensive lineman in 1968, told the Globe.
"It blew my mind when this stuff came out because it was so uncharacteristic of the Jerry Sandusky I knew," said Bob Peck, BU's athletic director at the time.
"If the allegations are true, then this is a classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I didn't know him as Mr. Hyde, but when he was Dr. Jekyll, he was the greatest guy in the world." That from Jim Norris, who coached with Sandusky.
Why disturbing?
Because here we are in 2011, after all the publicity, particularly in Boston, of the church sex abuse crisis, and the abuse of Sen. Scott Brown at the children's camp he attended as a child, the ongoing news of abuse of other children at the camp, and all the information available on child sex abuse that we have available now and these guys haven't gotten past the number one myth of child sex abuse. The myth that the guy doing it isn't a "nice guy," isn't a normal person, isn't someone, well, like they are.
According to the Leadership Council, the number one myth about child sex abuse is that normal-appearing, well-educated, middle class people don't abuse children.
The council says: "One of the public's most dangerous assumptions is the belief that a person who both appears and acts normal could not be a child molester. Sex offenders are well aware of our propensity for making assumptions about private behavior from one's public presentation. In fact, as recent reports of abuse by priests have shown, child molesters rely on our misassumptions to deliberately and carefully set and gain access to child victims."
The council quotes Dr. Anna Salter, an expert on sex offenders, who says, "A double life is prevalent among all types of sex offenders . . . . The front that offenders typically offer to the outside world is usually a 'good person,' someone who the community believes has a good character and would never do such a thing." 
This doesn't mean that the guys at BU back in 1968, when child sex abuse was pretty much ignored, should have seen what Sandusky was like, known anything about his alleged proclivities or been able to change the future.
But it also shows that you don't have to see a guy raping a child in a shower to know he's not the guy you thought he was. Hell, look at Penn State. In 2002, after SEEING the guy raping the kid in the shower, he was still given a pass.
There's probably no way Peck, Norris, Williams, and all the other guys on the Terriers football squad could have known a child sex abuser may be in their midst. But in the light of what we know 43 years later, they should be aware that any normal-seeming guy could be that guy, and that the guy you knew could easily be the sex offender you don't know.
And many child sex offenders never show the evil, monster-like Mr. Hyde face. They are kindly Dr. Jekyll all the time, even when they're abusing the kids.
Because the "greatest guy in the world" can also be abusing children.
In other words, it's not a double life. It's his life and being that "great guy" is all part of it.
 The men in the article also had some very manly reactions to the Sandusky accusations.
"If the allegations are true, then I'll bet 80 percent of my teammates would support a public execution," Williams told the Globe.
"I would have dropped him on the spot," said Pete Dexter, who played on the team.
Manly indeed. But how about we put down the keg of testosterone and find a way to stop this stuff from happening in the first place?
A good start would be for everyone to educate themselves about the signs of child sex abuse and know that even a stand-up guy like Jerry could be a sex abuser. That would be a much more effective response to the problem than popping the guy in the nose.
The Boston Globe would have been well served to add the voice of a child sex abuse expert to its story, but even a lot of the media hasn't grasped what the story is really about.
Because we need to get past our shock that the greatest guy in the world can do this and realize he can. Because then people would be a lot less hesitant to go right to the cops with what they saw the greatest guy in the world doing, or even the more subtle signs, like "horsing around" too much with kids, putting themselves in a position to be around young kids all the time, and all the other signs that have been well-publicized, but seem to be ignored when the guy is the greatest guy in the world.
Let's hear some more from the fellas.
"It's hard to believe someone could lead a second life like that. If Jerry did this, he deceived a lot of people, including me," said Darryl Hill, an offensive lineman on the team, who, according to the Globe, "best remembers Sandusky's kindness."
And one final, jarring quote:
"He was the kind of guy you liked being around, which is probably why those Penn State guys didn't do enough to report him," said Barry Pryor, who played for the Terriers and later for the Dolphins.
"They probably loved him."


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Sad Tale of Not-So-Happy Valley

The irony, I'm sure, was lost on the out-of-breath sportscaster who during the close-to-hysteria coverage of Joe Paterno's ouster by Penn State explained -- or maybe even excused -- the reaction of the close-to-rioting student body by saying that at the school, football is a religion.
I guess that makes JoePa Cardinal Law.
Because take away the locker room, the helmets, and the TV contracts and you have an eerily similar story. A brotherhood of grown boys protecting their billion-dollar industry once again at the expense of raped children.
The story is this: a young football assistant said he walked into the Penn State locker room late one night in 2002 to find Jerry Sandusky, a Penn State legend both on the field and on the sidelines and now director of a program for disadvantaged boys, raping a 10 year old boy against the shower wall. Sorry for the graphic description. Most of the news stories say he said he found him "with" the boy in the shower. Which kind of conjures pictures of them both lathering up and playing with rubber duckies. But a few accounts have told it like it is, and there's no mistaking what was going on.
The young assistant, after mulling it over for a night, told his boss, legendary football coach Joe Paterno. Who told his boss, the school's athletic director. Then apparently washed his hands of the whole thing.
I wonder how many people anywhere else in the world would walk in on a scene like that and not take some kind of immediate action?
And I wonder how many people in Paterno's position -- who by the way has said he believed the young assistant's account -- would consider the matter closed after telling his boss?
But in the glorified billion-dollar industry that is college football, the rules are different. Kind of like they were (and still are in many ways) in that other rich boys' club.
Jerry Sandusky may not have done it. And the other eight charges against him over the past 15 years that the grand jury came back with recently may not hold up. (Although having served on a grand jury, I can testify that with pedophiles, the cases that are absolutely solid are the ones you indict on and the other dozens where the witness is shakey, the dates confused, etc., get tossed aside). And all those kids and moms are just making things up. Because...not sure why.
But the bottom line is that a fella told Joe what he saw. And Joe believed him. Then did next to nothing.
And the big story, if the coverage over the past several days and tonight as Joe gets canned, is not that a powerful football man (Sandusky) can once again show that the most disgusting of crimes can be ignored if you have the right friends and wear the right uniform.
 No, the BIG story if my TV and the wire services are to be believed is that a college football coach has lost his job.
And the bizarre thing is, people are pissed off about it. The guy losing his job, not the choice of story lead.
I know people who went to Penn State. They're not stupid people, for the most part. But there is definitely some kind of disconnect between reality and the glorified fake world of college football.
Because as legendary as Paterno is and as Greek tragic as it is that he is going out in such an unhappy way, football is a money-making industry designed to line the pockets of the few while entertaining the many. Even college football. And that's all it is.
And yet somehow, while most people would express horror at the rape of children, they don't seem to understand what it has to do with this football coach. And now the damn kids and their moms are wrecking the legend of Happy Valley.
Sure, it's a story that Paterno is losing his job. The great thing about a Greek tragedy is that somehow karma will bite the "hero" on butt and that always makes for a good read.
But the bigger story is that where money, glory, fame and power are concerned, abused children are shuffled aside as an inconvenience and abusers are protected as they abuse again and again.
And maybe those Penn State students should have been rioting about that.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I hate to say I told you so...no wait, I don't.

Wow. Reality TV "star" Kim Kardashian and NBA player Kris Humphries are calling it quits after their 72-day marriage. After their more-money-than-you-or-I-will-see-in-a-lifetime wedding. Color me stunned.
Oh wait, don't.
Here's what I wrote in May after reading a story about their six-figure engagement party:

I was thumbing through People magazine and came across the incredibly substance-less, trite and downright bizarre when you think about it story of the "fairytale" engagement of Kim Kardashian, famous for simply being famous, and NBA star Kris Humphries.
The whole thing was "a dream come true"!
The 20-plus-carat ring brings this line from People: Kardashian had "long dreamed of the perfect man -- and the perfect ring"!
They had an engagement party that rivaled a state dinner to celebrate Kim's "Cinderella moment" (People's words, not mine). This was chronicled over several pages in the magazine, complete with photos of the proposal being spelled out in rose petals on the living room rug and the "princess themed" cake that cost thousands of dollars.
Now, I know it's People magazine and not The New Yorker. But I'd say People mirrors our attitudes as a society a whole lot more than probably any other popular publication.
And so, there we have it: a very rich young lady who is a "reality show" star with a B-list famous late dad (OJ Simpson lawyer Robert Kardashian) and B-list famous stepdad (Olympian Bruce Jenner) and an NBA star.
They've known each other since November so they "took the right amount of time and made sure it was right," according to Kardashian.
He asked her step-father's permission to marry her.
She has "always dreamed of a big wedding" so will "do something really over-the-top."
Now a lot of people may be saying, "Yeah, so? Sounds really romantic to me."
And that's the issue -- we are programmed to think all this is just great. Particularly women.
"Every little girl dreams of being a princess and marrying a handsome prince."...
And Kardashian. Cinderella? Guess again. More like one of the stepsisters -- rich, privileged, and entitled.
He asks her dad for her hand. Why? She's a grown woman.
Oh, but it's so romantic.
And she's dreamed of such a perfect engagement.
How about teaching little girls, and bigger ones for that matter, and maybe even the fellas, that instead of dreaming of weddings, spelling out proposals in rose petals, pretending to be princesses, we dream of a perfect marriage with equal partners who discuss their values, expectations and yes, dreams, before taking the plunge. 
The guy asks the dad for her hand instead of the two adults sitting down and discussing -- seriously -- what kind of life they expect to have with each other.
Every girl dreams of being a princess.
And that's the problem. No one dreams of a perfect marriage. Just the engagement. Just the wedding.
So the Kardashian story is another example of  the fluff and superficiality that we like to base our beliefs on.
Cliches carry so much more weight than looking at something realistically, logically, and pragmatically.
Here's what we accept as true, good and romantic: A little girl dreams of the perfect wedding ring. The bigger the better.
What does that say about what we expect as a society, both of little girls and of ourselves? 

That was back in May. The two got married in August. And divorced in November. People magazine had a big story -- did Kim get married just to further her reality show? As easy as that would be to believe, it gets a big NO from me. Reference the above May passage.
Kim wanted the "fairy tale." Hell, it's right there in People. It was there in the May issue and again in the August issue that gave equal coverage to her over-the-top wedding.
And here it is in the Nov. 14 issue. Several people commenting sadly that she wanted the fairy tale. Yes, they actually say fairy tale. The F word appears dozens of times spread across the three stories -- as an adjective. As a noun. Hell, I bet they would have made it a verb if they could have figured out how to.
"She wanted the fairy tale."
So sad, like somehow the fairy tale let her down.
Kim Kardashian isn't really that different from a lot of American women -- just richer and with more access to pop media.
Girls are taught almost from birth to value things that are pretty and sparkly. And men are taught no woman has more value than the one who is pretty and sparkly.
Getting flowers -- preferably sent to work so all the coworkers can see what a great partner and loving relationship we have (put those in air quotes) -- is more highly valued that turning off the TV, sitting down at the kitchen table for dinner and having a grown-up conversation about our day.
A proposal -- extra points if it's a surprise! -- is somehow considered preferable to two adults discussing their lives together, their values and mutually agreeing that it's something they can take on.
Women all over the country wake up from the "dream" a day, a week, a month, whatever, after the wedding and realize after their big princess-for-a-day moment, now they have to figure out how to live with the guy for the next 50 or so years.
And nobody ever told them about THAT.