Sunday, November 13, 2011

What If, Just What...If

What I would really like is to have an audience with the supporters of  Coach Paterno who rioted last week. And this is what I'd say:
"Hi, everyone. I know this has been a wildly emotional week across the country but nowhere more than here in Happy Valley. I appreciate you giving me a little of your time. I'm going to ask you to do a couple of short visualization exercises with me. I know that sounds fruity, bizarre, and irrelevant so I'm going to thank you in advance for humoring me. One, or maybe both, of these exercises could be difficult and triggering for you. I have faith, though, having seen the depth of your passion this week, that you can work with your emotions.

Enough preamble, let's jump right in. First just close your eyes. I want you to picture a child, about 10 years old, but you don't need to be exact. Now imagine that you are that child. You are in a room in a big, important building with a teacher or coach who you've been told is a trusted adult. It is quiet and dim because it is after hours. That coach is hurting you. You know he shouldn't but you're very small in stature and in power and he is very large in both. The one thing you feel you can do is hope and wish as hard as you can for someone to save you. It should be an adult so they have enough power to make this stop.

After some time you hear footsteps. When you open your eyes you see another adult, perhaps it's Mike McQueary, perhaps it isn't. Your wish was granted! He sees you. He sees your coach. He looks shocked. You're sure the next thing he'll do is move or speak and make this hurting stop.

He walks away.

Anything he does after that is unknown to you. As far as you know he does nothing to stop the immediate pain or any future instances of it. Nothing happens to tell you that you're worthy of being saved and that this kind of thing isn't supposed to happen and isn't your fault. Nothing ever does happen to change those feelings.

OK, open your eyes when you're ready. Take a moment to feel your feelings and breathe through them. Thanks for doing that. One more quick one. It's not similar at all, I promise. I don't know how familiar you might be with fan fiction, when writers create their own stories for characters from beloved TV shows or movies? There's a device called Alternate Universe that some of these writers use where they change a few facts of the world the characters live in to suit your story. We're going to use it now.

Go ahead and close your eyes again. Let's pretend we're all right here as we are now but it's years ago when Mr. McQueary first saw the incident we used in the first exercise. So technically it wouldn't be you here it would be your counterparts from that time but let's make it easier on ourselves and say it's us. It's not me up here talking to you, it's Coach Paterno and he has the following to say to you, "Thank you all for coming today. As I'm sure you've heard there was an incident on campus a couple of days ago that is deeply disturbing to all of us. Charges are being made against Coach Sandusky regarding the harm of a young man. I'm not here to spread rumors so I'm not going to get into details. I'm sure those will come out in the days to come. I do have a couple of rumors I can lay to rest, though. I have heard people say that this incident will tarnish the reputation of our team, our school, and our community. Let me assure you that is not the case. Ideally this would never have happened here in Happy Valley but we're all adults and we know that no place is perfect. We are judged by how we handle adversity and so far I think we're handling it pretty well. The minute Coach Sandusky's behavior was discovered we investigated. We took steps to make sure he was removed from campus and urged him to get help. We provided counseling and assistance to the young man and, as we go forward we plan to assist and encourage all the students who have been involved in any similar incidents that may be discovered. I have always strived to run not just a winning football program but an ethical one. I don't just teach a playbook, I teach life, a good life, where we take responsibility for our neighbors and work hard to make sure we don't just look good we do good. I am proud of all of you for staying the course, for supporting our community through this difficult time, and I have no doubt you will continue. It is those actions that will assure that we will come out of this not just fine but better and stronger than ever. Thank you and God bless."

Don't open your eyes. Picture yourselves giving him a standing ovation. Picture yourselves standing and cheering and whooping for your coach as long, as loud, and as passionately as you did this week when you heard that he'd been fired. Now picture what happens next. Does someone else come to the podium? Can anyone follow that? Would anyone dare to penalize the team, the school, or the man in the face of such decisive action and such a devoted following?

OK, open your eyes. I know what my answers to those questions are but I trust you as adults to come to your own conclusions. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for letting me pose them.



  1. Yeah!

    Sandusky's crimes only became Penn State's crimes when the people in charge found out and chose to cover it up. Now the school gets to own it forever, and it isn't the victims or the prosecutors or the media who is to blame for that. It is Paterno ,and McQueary and all the people who they told, who all decided that calling the police was a step they weren't willing to take.

  2. Although I think what he did was reprehensible, I also want to play "picture this" with McQueary, because I think, in a funny way, it's a critical element for what happened.

    People have been demonizing McQueary, and it's true that the fact that he turned away from what he saw is horrible. But from what I have read and understand, McQueary was brought up in the Penn State system as a young boy growing into a man, and I'm sure that Sandusky was a father-figure for him in some way or another. The moral conflicts he must have experienced when he saw Sandusky committing that horrible act must have been very difficult for him to process - It's no wonder he felt he had no moral foundation but had to consult with Paterno. He chose the wrong way, but we can surely put ourselves in his place and wonder What we'd have done. He chose wrong, and he will regret it for the rest of his life. I think he is a tragic figure. I don't lend him more sympathy than the victims, but - as you urge us to do - I can visualize what he went through. This man must feel the horror of years of built up denial and self-loathing. I do not envy him.

    The fact is, predators like Jerry Sandusky wreak a toll from everyone they touch, from their victims to their enablers, whether willing or unwilling.

  3. Aunt Snow, I'm so conflicted about McQueary. He was 28! But he was brought up in the Paterno system and his easily won silence proves he is exactly the kind of man they wanted to make him. But he can't be absolved of responsibility! But what about his dad who, son of a bitch, ought to have charges brought against him. But but but. I agree with you that he deserves compassion because, of all of them, he was the one with the most to lose and he was clearly confused and kind of emotionally stunted which wound up with him doing all manner of wrong things. On the other hand there's talk of him being protected under whistle blower laws and I don't think that's right either. This should not have happened and greedy, old school bastards let it.