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They gathered there, at midfield of a football stadium, before more than 100,000 witnesses. They joined hands, oversized men in black, white and red. Their loyalties and potential animosity had been deposited on their sidelines.
Their heads were bowed, and they were praying.
This was Saturday at Penn State University, and the Nittany Lions and their opponents for the day, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, united not simply for a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the horrible scandal that erupted last week like the effluence from an overflowing septic tank but for several moments of concentratedprayer for those young boys who are the victims of such heinous crimes.
Nebraska assistant coach Ron Brown led the prayer that extended so long that it must have become inspirational for the fans in the stands because they started to clap. Have you ever seen a prayer applauded?
Their reaction is understandable, because you could not watch and not be moved far beyond expectation, not be overwhelmed by the obvious emotion that was pouring out of the hearts and souls of those 200 people gathered on a football field.
They may have been hundreds of miles from here, but the lessons their moment memorialized connected with our community as surely as if they were standing next door.
I don’t know Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant coach at Penn State, of course. I don’t begin to comprehend the crimes with which he has been charged. I don’t understand his definition of “horse play” while he showered with children.
I have been in hundreds of showers in athletic facilities and seen horseplay, but never have I seen anything that could have been misconstrued as sexual abuse.
And it is fathomless to me what sort of animal lives within such a person’s body that urges him into such demonic deviations.
But I do fully know this: In decades of watching the wayward world that too often forms the underfooting of sports on every level I never have heard of anything more despicable.
The case against O.J. Simpson shocked open our jaws. The cover-up by a coach of a basketball player who was murdered at Baylor was stunning. The outrageous entertainment of athletes at the University of Miami (and dozens of other places) rattled our heads. People lie, steal, cheat and shun responsibility.
But never has anything seemed so awful as Penn State.
Almost like the shootings at Kent State became the iconic symbol of the political unrest on college campuses in the 1960s, Penn State sadly may become the golden tablet for the worst moment a university’s athletic department ever has experienced.
You have heard and read those awful details, those evolving, exploding details. You now see without question how a university that is driven by an athletic machine can become so far afield of the values it purports to teach our young people.
In this case, the machine devaluedyoung people.
To put this into some perspective, the Watergate burglary took down a presidency, but the crimes that precipitated that process were far less egregious than those that have been described at PSU.
Richard Nixon lost his job because some political henchmen were stupid while breaking into an office to steal political secrets, as if those were truly important. He told them to lie and then lied about that.
Legendary, ultra-respected coach Joe Paterno lost his job because he was told that one of his top assistant coaches was molesting boys, and all he did was tell his boss and go on with life – nine years ago. Would we ever have heard from him without a grand jury finally doing its job?
Those little boys will be going on with life, too – one of torture, of public scrutiny, of unwavering and unsettling personal conflict.
As an ESPN commentator said the other day, “If you see a rape, you don’t tell your boss – you call the cops or intervene.”
Mike McQueary, the assistant who allegedly witnessed Sandusky raping a child, told his boss, JoePa, as he is known, and Paterno told his boss and then he went back to being a doddering old football coach who long ago had ceased to be anything more than a cuddly figurehead.
Except there’s nothing cuddly about this strata of irresponsibility.
No one screamed about it when they should have, but there’s plenty of outrage to be screamed to the masses now.
Not least among those screams is about the trend we see here.
The crimes against these boys were awful, disgusting, imperceptible, but, unfortunately, they are not new crimes.
Catholic priests have been abusing boys for decades, probably centuries, and their sins have been covered up – disgustingly and outrageously.
These pages are soiled far too frequently with accounts of our neighbors abusing the young or even trafficking with those who make a routine of that.
But what makes you want to throw something across the room is those at Penn State who knew something could be wrong and let it continue, those who didn’t report what they heard any farther than the absolute minimum, those who cared more about themselves than they did the innocent children.
TheDaily.com displayed the names – and photographs of many – of 15 adults who knew about Jerry Sandusky’s alleged acts with boys before he ever was arrested. They ranged from the university’s president and the county’s 6-years-missing district attorney to janitors and the others whose names you now have heard countless times.
They didn’t respond appropriately, they didn’t respond quickly, or, heck, – they didn’t respond at all!
Did they imagine how they would feel if these were their sons?
What does that teach us about our world and its values? That those who preach courage are too gutless to do the right when confronted by wrong.
And I know one thing for dead-on certain: If I ever learn of someone doing something like that to someone I loved, there wouldn’t be any need for me to tell my boss.