Friday, July 13, 2012

With Sadness and Anger

Penn State.

Happy Valley.

Nittany Lions

Joe Paterno

But alas, also Jerry Sandusky.

It is the story that will not go away because it is too awful to go away.

It is the story that brought down an icon and "football god" because the icon was found to be less than he was thought to be or less than he was made to be.

It is the story of victims ignored, warnings hidden, red flags too numerous to count being overlooked.

It is the story of a grandiosity at work, and probably addiction.

Never underestimate the power of hidden addictions to bring down even the greatest.

A wise recovering priest once said to me that when anyone came to him with a problem he assumed addiction until proven otherwise...

and then he continued to suspect it.

Jerry Sandusky had a serious addiction which at the very least has now become public through his horrific actions.

Like good co-addicts and enablers, Penn State and Joe Paterno made sure he was kept out of the spotlight which only allowed him to continue. No one thought about the feelings of the children. No one ever does in times like that. No one thought about the parents who were deceived into disbelieving their own children. the only thing that was considered was the reputation of the institution, the money-flow of donations, the cash cow of Big Time American Football.

In addicted families and organizations the guiding principles are always:

  • Don't talk
  • Don't trust
  • Don't feel

Which can easily be summarized as keep your mouth shut and your head in the sand. And above all, don't let anyone on the outside know about what is really happening.

As I have written before, I am a native Pennsylvanian, growing up but 50 miles from State College. It was not the icon that it has become, Paterno started as head coach when I was a senior in high school. Names and places from my childhood have been brought onto the national stage in ways that no one would have imagined.

But after years of dealing with addiction and addictive behaviors of all kinds, none of it comes as a surprise. No, I would not have expected the depth of depravity of a Jerry Sandusky, but the responses of those around him are in no way unusual or unexpected. When something like this is happening in a big name place by big name people, the roots of the cover-up will always go deep and wide.

Penn State has been given a difficult lesson. They will soon really close ranks and hope the fallout is limited. They will work as hard as they can to make sure this doesn't happen again. And it probably won't. At Penn State. At least for a long while.

Perhaps for the rest of us the willingness to stand up to icon building behaviors will be a lesson. Perhaps we won't be silent to protect a reputation or our skin. Perhaps we will think twice before turning aside from injustice and victimizing.

Maybe we can even think first of those being victimized before all else.

Human nature- and the nature of addictive behaviors- is such that we will probably not be successful at that as often as we should. But at least we have to commit ourselves to trying.

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