Thursday, November 10, 2011

My 2 Cents....

I've been thinking about writing this post for days now, but taking all of the words in my head and making them into coherent thoughts has been a challenge. The scandal at Penn State has brought on shock, anger, sorrow, more anger, and more sorrow as the week has gone on. Everyone has strong opinions, and I feel the need to share the basis for mine.

I grew up in a Penn State family. My dad, uncle, and aunt all went there. I grew up watching football with my dad in an effort to bond with him. The first football game that I have a clear memory of was the 1986 National Championship game versus Miami. I'll never forget my dad very nearly flipping the leather recliner he was in when they won. I'll also never forget responding to rumors of Joe Paterno's impending retirement after that season by getting out my Penn State stationary and writing a letter to beg him to keep coaching.

From elementary school until I graduated from high school, my life was consumed by the desire to go to Penn State. It was my drive for everything that I did. I lived and breathed it. I was going to Penn State. 

Then in the span of a year, 2 things happened that shook my world up. The least of those two things was the Penn State rug being pulled out from under my feet when I was informed that my parents wouldn't cosign on the student loans that I needed to be able to go to school there. I was stunned and devastated, but in comparison, it wasn't that big a deal. Life would go on.

The more significant event was an assault by an adult male coworker during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. Physically, the altercation left me with scrapes on my legs, his hand prints around my arms (that didn't fade for a month), and bruises from being picked up and thrown into a set of metal bleachers. Twice.

I told my parents. I'll never forget hearing them tell me that if he ever came after me again, that then they'd go to the police. And that was it. That was all. The message I got was "You're just not worth the fuss." I didn't swim my senior year because every time I was at the pool where the assault took place, I had flashbacks. I used the excuse that my knees hurt, but all things being equal, there's no way that would have stopped me. The flashbacks were another story. I don't really remember much else around the time that the flashbacks started, although friends have filled in a few of the blanks. Apparently I didn't speak for a month and there were pills of some sort involved. It's all a blur now. There were two panic attacks that I remember vividly, triggered when I thought I saw my assailant on different occasions. I couldn't move, I couldn't think, I couldn't breathe. I was terrified that he might be anywhere near me again. 

And for years, that's what I thought life was after such an event. Eventually I went to therapy and muddled my way past the assault. I consider kicking PTSD to the curb as a major accomplishment. The part of this that remains, however, is the constant struggle to find self-worth. If I wasn't worth it to my parents to stand up for me, then what was I worth? Anything? Why would anyone ever truly take an interest in me? Love me? Want to be my friend? If people are talking to me, they're just being polite, right? Why would anyone really care? That, my friends, is the part that stays with you every single day. The feeling of worthlessness.

I know the profound impact that this had on my life, and it doesn't even hold a candle to what happened to all those kids in Pennsylvania, or the abuses that so many others have faced. My experience doesn't even come close that. It breaks my heart that those kids were sent the message that they weren't worth the fallout that such charges would bring. That's the message they've been carrying around, that they were so worthless that a monster could abuse them in unspeakable ways and that a football program and legacy were more important than protecting them or finding them justice. 

Don't get me wrong, my anger isn't reserved solely for Joe Paterno. At this point we don't know what he was actually told. But we do know that he knew something and did the least that he was required to do legally, and never followed up. If something horrible ever happened to my daughter, and years later someone told me that they knew and should have done more, I would be beyond livid. But like I said, he doesn't deserve all of my rage or anyone else's. There's the sick man that perpetrated the abuse to begin with and is so arrogant to be maintaining his innocence. Sure, he's legally entitled to such claims for now, but anyone who has read that grand jury report knows better. McQueary also gets a significant allocation of my rage. It's clear that there were many people along the way who knew about this and preferred to sweep it under the rug, and my anger extends to every single one of them.

I have so much respect for the victims that have come forward and have kept making noise about it until someone heard them out. It takes courage that I never had. They faced fear and humiliation that no person should ever know. Their bravery in coming forward with their stories is remarkable.

A lot of people have commented lately that others shouldn't let emotions factor into their reaction to the scandal. I don't understand how any parent could read that grand jury report and not have such a reaction. There is no grey area when it comes to reporting child abuse. It was said to me that "Well, we all do our best." If that's our best, then we need to seriously check our collective moral compass. Those kids deserved better, all of them do. I hope that all of his victims can find closure and peace, sooner rather than later.