Penn State Sports Scandal Destroys Lives
A beloved football coach – I might even say a living legend – finds his life destroyed after a luminous career. All because of alleged inaction – perhaps to shield a friend, perhaps to preserve the “old school” or for other reasons.
And the sad story of Joe Paterno is only one more chapter in how the victims who suffer are once again vilified, and how we wonder if it is even possible for justice to prevail when such tragedy is involved.
When I was in the year of training for psychotherapy, I felt fortunate to study under a knowledgeable PhD who ran the gamut from psychoanalysis to cognitive styles in his competencies.
The thing he told us was the most important thing to do during our psychotherapy training was for each of us to isolate the population with which we could not work.
His, he said, was sex offenders — especially those who abused children. He thought that crime so heinous, and the perpetrators so distasteful, that counter-transference — his angry feelings toward them — would be so strong, that he probably would not do them any good.
Me, I could never isolate such a population. He got to know me well enough to know I was telling the truth. He said I would probably end up working in a jail someday — and I did, for a little while. In all, I worked in four different men’s prisons in the California state penal system.
My husband – who drove me to and from work – loves to tell people how he “got me out of prison.”
Yes, I spent a few years of my life among minimum and medium security inmates. A couple of psychiatrists got attacked on those gigs. I knew one whom I am told got his eye knocked out by an angry inmate after I had left. To tell the truth, I was tempted to do that much and sometimes more to him – but my self-control kept me from acting on such impulse and thus joining those behind bars.
To clarify – nobody deserves such a fate. But some people can provoke such fantasies.
I had the opposite problem – my incarcerated patients loved me. The main reason was my habit of telling inmates that I believed there were no bad people, but there were good people who sometimes did very bad things.
Against all regulations and safety rules, the men sometimes knelt down and kissed my hands and stroked them, crying, and sometimes it was hard to keep from crying with them.
These hardened criminals often told me nobody had told them that before. I could only shrug my shoulders.
I felt like a lion tamer, sticking my head in the open mouth of a docile beast.
Often my attitude was attributed to religion. Sometimes inmates would tell me I was a great woman (maybe, on my best days) and sometimes they would tell me I was a great Christian (full disclosure – I’m Jewish and it’s not exactly a compliment to tell me I’m a good Christian, but their hearts were in the right place).
It was clear that the other inmates did not think much of the child molesters. I could not do a lot to keep them from being physically attacked. The best I could do for them – maybe — after completing a pile of paperwork taller than I was, would get some kind of higher level of security, like isolation.
They were people who loved children, but as Shakespeare said of Othello “… Loved Not Wisely But Too Well.” They were usually beloved themselves (until their terrible transgressions) — not the irritable guys, but the scoutmasters and choir directors and priests and schoolteachers and others who would put their arm around a boy who was having trouble and quote me things like “No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a boy.”
I am not saying what they did can possibly be construed as good or right. Their “boundary problems” have created psychopathology in their victims with an abuse of trust that could ruin these folks for life, given how poorly mainstream psychology treats trauma.
Add to this an institution that seems to be looking the other way, and we have an unpardonable mess. Yes, a heinous crime.
Of course there are competent people trying to help victims — such as Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) — and there is hope for recovery.
I love these people, I love their site. They do focus primarily on recovery from abuse by priests, but they serve as an example that there is hope for recovery and the victims don’t have to feel like villains when they have already been victimized once.
There is a bigger problem here. This type of scandal is horribly divisive, and Penn State is suffering from the split between supporters of the athletic program and those enraged by the betrayal of trust and victimization of children by those in power.
As with many crimes, there has been deception and cover-up and stone-walling of this heinous crime for ten years or more, which has affected everybody associated with this University.
I know that if I were in the part of my life when I was looking for either a medical school position or a faculty position, it would not stop me from applying because the football coach had acted inappropriately. I will admit that I would think twice if it were a medical school professor, but this incident seems to have screwed up everyone’s morale.
It is because people think sports represents a university. It does not and should not.
People think sports is a religion.
I have written on this. The kind of university sports we are talking about may lead to a professional career. Professional sports careers lead to broken bodies and broken lives.
Yes, the fans love to be entertained, and sports generates huge sums of money for our institutions of higher learning. But the participants generally end up disabled and financially broke – ill-equipped for any other life than that of an athlete. And that career is short-lived.
University sports once meant something about “clean cut” young men. Sports was good for the participant, giving moral values and teamwork and sportsmanship and spirit.
But this ideal — the ideal of a healthy mind in a healthy body — vanished somewhere around my father’s university career, when he cheered the Harvard football team in the 1940s knowing it was a club he would never join, as he was no athlete.
Somehow, since then, it has become a land of drug tests and scandals. In the places where I taught, it was a place you could maybe help someone find a life if they were too big and too stupid to go to medical school.
Now, I am thinking something different. More than scoutmasters and choirmasters, sports coaches are people who deal with people’s bodies. My guess is that it could be tough to maintain limits of relationships – what we shrinks call “boundaries.”
We need to be ready to expect this and recognize it early and not get shocked when it appears.
As for generalizing about the remainder of the university, my concern is that in all of the years that this kind of behavior was happening, there were few football players who complained. And those that did were ignored.
You see, the only people to complain to in such an insulated society are those who are involved in other ways. If you report a coach to an administrator, then the administrator has to worry about reflected blame for giving the coach authority in the first place. Higher up, there is usually a worry about word getting out and affecting things like alumni donations and sanctions from the athletic regulatory boards. Heaven forbid – maybe even legal ramifications for committing such a crime.
Ethics and morality are very hard to teach, and usually do not get taught at all. And even if taught here, they did not come with the requisite courage to practice them.
Sometimes people tell me it is the duty of religion to teach such things. I do not agree. Morality is not dependent upon religion. People can tell right and wrong and can do things for reasons other than a fear of going to hell or blowing a chance at eternal paradise in heaven.
As SNAP visibly illustrates, organized religion has hidden its own scandals too often. And like a coiled spring, you can keep it tightly wound and concealed only so long – and the longer you do, the harder the recoil and the more severe the reaction.
Religion is invoked too easily today, and in my opinion has gained too much political power. Even our news networks – who used to be independent watchdogs – are now representatives of governments, religions and corporations.
As staunch Republican Barry Goldwater warned: “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them. “
(Said in November 1994, as quoted by John Dean, in his book “Conservatives Without Conscience ” 2006)
Regardless of religious, political or other philosophical considerations, I deeply care about how humans act to one another.
An abuse of the confidence of a minor for self-gratification remains the most heinous of crimes.
I do not think we can stop thoughts or desires in the perpetrators, with a real or imagined set of consequences in a later existence – an “afterlife.” People should not do this simply because it is the wrong thing to do to another human, and especially one of the worst possible things to do to someone who is not yet an adult.
I have seen altruism exist in other species. To quote an old favorite song – “Birds, do it; Bees do it.” In an earlier blog post, I wrote about crows helping a disabled crow.
Our advanced species should know this is wrong to do to another member of our species and should stop doing it for that reason alone.
I’ve seen previews of a current movie called “Real Steel.” A futuristic world has robots boxing instead of humans. I’ve advocated robot substitutes for football and other violent sports before.
I make no secret of my dislike of sports. I’m sure this has made me a villain in some quarters.
Banning human athletic competition would probably be impossible, but I think it could only help abolish human misery – including injuries to participants and the type of child abuse we’ve heard about at Penn State.
Maybe we could reduce or even eliminate pedophilia by letting the machines take over that sporting part of our lives.