That classic quote from the character that spawned my blog’s name is one of many lines of dialogue and images born in the hilarious and off-center minds of the Coen Brothers for their opus, The Big Lebowski. Somehow, they even found a way to make pedophilia and perversion funny by creating and perfectly humanizing a grotesque, slimy, purple jumpsuit and hair-net wearing caricature named Jesus Quintana. And we all know now that “nobody fucks with the Jesus.”
But let me be clear: John Turturro’s Oscar-worthy performance notwithstanding, THERE IS NOTHING FUNNY ABOUT PEDOPHILIA, CHILD MOLESTATION AND CHILD ABUSE. EVER.
I feel a great number of awful adjectives today, and have ever since this story broke over the weekend. I am disgusted, disheartened, disappointed, frustrated, bewildered, angry and sad. But mostly I am sick. Fall to my knees, grab the sides of the bowl and turn my insides out sick about this whole tragedy currently gripping “Happy Valley,” and shocking the world around it.
I am not entirely sure where or how to begin, but for crying out loud, I know all of this should begin with the victims, however many there were, of this horrific and despicable crime and subsequent cover-up (and/or at the very least, lack of action and responsibility that allowed such heinous crimes to continue for nearly a decade and to affect and ruin the lives of countless other precious and innocent children and their families).
Imagine if you will the most shame and embarrassment you have ever felt (in a singular moment or for an extended period of time) in your entire life. Then do the same for the most frightened or fearful you have ever been. Then take those feelings and multiply their intensity by ten, or a hundred, or a million. Still, you have likely fallen short of the mark. I am not sure, if you have never been physically assaulted, violated nor had your innocence stolen from you at an early age (or any age, frankly), that you could possibly understand the intense shame, fear and self-loathing you would feel in the aftermath of such a traumatic event.
For some, that feeling might be able to be quashed, or at least tempered, gradually, with good therapy, loving friends and family, a strong foundation and sense of self and most importantly, with the passing of time. Those are the “lucky” few. For most, the nightmares will never ever end. The self-hatred, shame, fear and general depression will remain through the years, possibly even intensify, and certainly negatively affect their lives in every way imaginable, from performance in school and later work, to relationships with friends, family, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses and possibly even their own progeny. Sexual abuse and trauma often creates or intensifies a number of mental health issues, including but not limited to depression, aggression, OCD, problems with authority, control issues (including eating, cutting and behavioral disorders), and certainly suicidal and even homicidal thoughts and tendencies.
Not only do we not know how many other young lives were affected and derailed by the perpetrator of these crimes (Mr. Sandusky), both before and after he was witnessed in the shower with a ten year old, but unfortunately we never will. Because one thing is for certain in situations such as this: For every brave child who comes forward, there are two, or three, or four or twenty, who can never muster the strength to do so. Furthermore, and this may be difficult to even process, but there may unfortunately be a few people who were abused and who are no longer with us today to come forward at all. These may have been the weakest of those victimized, and subsequently could not continue to live with the shame, guilt and fear. Their parents, god help them, probably wondered what could possibly have driven their precious children to such a horrible and “selfish” demise, not even realizing that a scenario as awful as this scandal may have stacked the deck unfairly against their children living a normal life, or living a life at all. But also consider that Sandusky was 58 when he was “caught in the act” nine years ago. Predators of this nature rarely begin these deviant behaviors so late in life. It is certainly possible, and in fact, probable, that Sandusky was committing similar treacherous acts for decades prior to being seen in the showers in 2002. So it stands to reason that there may have been victims of his perversity who would be in their 50s today, or at least close to 50. Some of them, unfortunately, who lived with that kind of pain, shame and fear for so long, may simply have passed on rather “naturally” by now as well.
I realize that is awful to read about or even think about, but to me, the victims, all of them, at any age, whether dead or alive, must be remembered here and more to the point, measures need to be put into place to prevent similar predators from hurting more innocent children in the future. This is true in Athletic departments from little leagues all the way up through the NCAA system. It is also true in our religious organizations, our public and private schools, summer camps, scout troops and any other institution or organization where adults have unlimited and unsupervised access to children.
Casting blame here seems premature. There are an overwhelming number of people who deserve some serious blame and who have a great deal of explaining to do over the next few weeks. But there are a few things that cannot be said enough, and a few people involved, that really have no shot at coming up with an explanation that will satisfactorily remove any guilt from their defense nor blood from their hands.
We (and by we I mean society) must be careful in child abuse cases not to quickly come to judgment in favor of the children because lives can be ruined forever in the other direction by falsely accusing someone of such heinous crimes when in fact they were innocent. There have been cases of authoritative figures being unjustly accused simply because their students or parishioners or campers, et al, didn’t like them. There have also been plays and movies and books written on the subject: think Doubt. So there are dangerous and slippery slopes in both directions that must be navigated in these awful situations.
But this case is clearly not one of those “we can’t be sure if the allegations are true so we need to take our time” scenarios. An adult witnessed the accused of raping a minor in a shower. Furthermore, at least nine people, most of whom did not know one another at all, have come forward with additional accusations. I have no idea how or why charges were not brought against Sandusky nine years ago, and why he has not seen the inside of a jail cell yet to date. Something is clearly wrong with not only the people associated with the Penn State Football Program and University, but also with the process in general to bring child molesters to justice in the first place. Our children are not even safe once an offender is caught red handed, because of a number of factors, but the slow pace of our justice system certainly is among them.
Now let’s talk about Mike McQueary. Again, I do not want to rush to judgment until I have all of the facts. But from the facts that have leaked out thus far, it seems to me that we have a young man (28 at the time) who stumbled across a horrifying and gruesome scene in 2002, when he witnessed Sandusky anally violating a ten year old boy in a shower. There are very few of us who can honestly say for certain what we would do if we were ever in a similar circumstance. Sure, we would all like to believe we would act the hero, run into the showers and forcibly remove the perpetrator from the child, punch him out and say something macho like, “if I ever see you around here again, or even catch wind of you touching another child so help me god, I will kill you.”
The morally correct thing to do is to make sure of the safety of the child you witness being abused, whether by force or by vocally yelling for the criminal to leave. Then, any sensible and reasonable code of ethics mandates even further action, which is to do all you can to prevent such abuse of minors to take place ever again. That is to say, one should notify the police of what was just witnessed, and together with the victim you just rescued, a case should be made to ensure Sandusky or his likeness spends the remainder of his (or her) life behind bars.
It is not easy to do the right thing. That is why society respects heroes and do-gooders of all walks of life, and even celebrates them. Captain Sully, who despite all odds landed that plane in the Hudson and saved the lives of all of his passengers; those brave souls on United Flight 93, who prevented additional terrorist acts and saved the lives of countless people in Washington DC on 911; the first responders in New Orleans following Katrina, or in Haiti after the earthquake, or Indonesia after the tsunami; Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and countless others in the fight for civil rights; Oscar Schindler and myriad others who defied the Nazis (and other tyrannical leaders) to help those being terrorized and systematically killed; the students in Tiananmen Square who stoically stood before the oncoming tanks; and all of the fire and policemen who courageously charged into the towers of the World Trade Center on 911; and too many others to mention, but all of whom deserve high praise and gratitude.
Ironically, hero-worship and near deification is why Joe Pa, of all people, was so revered – it wasn’t just his 409 wins on the field, but rather everything he did and represented off the field that made the man such a legend in the once happy valley that is State College, PA, as well as all over the rest of our nation. I will come back to this point later.
Right now, I am focused on McQueary, who had a chance to be a hero and failed. Not all of us are cut out to be heroes. Most of us aren’t wired for it. It is impossible to say what we would do in situations like that McQueary found himself in nine years ago. And it is also impossible to say what the same man may have done in a totally different make or break scenario under different circumstances. Actions (or non-actions) make the man, so they say. None of us can choose the situations that may befall us in life, but all of us control how we react to them, and it is in those reactions that our true character shines through.
I can’t help but be reminded of the grim basement scene in Tarantino’s opus, Pulp Fiction, when Marsellus Wallace is being sodomized by Zed and Maynard while Butch is in the room next door, frantically trying to escape the ropes they had tied him up with and listening to the barbarism taking place through the wall. When Butch finally frees himself and gets away from the gimp, he charges upstairs and is seemingly liberated from the nightmare he had been part of. He was on his way out to rendezvous with his girlfriend and live the rest of his life in total happiness with the money he had scammed from Marsellus Wallace when his conscience grabs hold of him. He grabs a samurai sword off the wall and coaxes himself back downstairs into the horrifying basement rape scene that was still underway. Butch sliced and stabbed Maynard with the sword and eyed Zed, forcing him, at sword point, off of the large black man who had been Butch’s sworn enemy just minutes earlier. Then Butch teases Zed, almost begging him to make a move for the shotgun that leaned against the table beside them.
“Step aside Butch,” said Marsellus.
Marsellus blows a whole in Zed’s abdomen as Butch moves away.
After a long pause, Butch finally asks, “You okay?”
To which Marsellus replies, “Naw man. I’m pretty fuckin’ far from okay.”
And in that scene, Quentin Tarantino basically encapsulated our collective problem with Mike McQueary, by showing the exact opposite reaction to a similar scenario. Making matters worse, Butch hated Marsellus Wallace, and minutes earlier was trying to kill the man. But seeing and hearing these two perverts rape the man, Butch simply had to do the right thing, even for his sworn enemy, and so he reentered the house of horrors and freed Marsellus from his assailants.
When asked if he was okay, Marsellus’ brutally honest response seemed oddly tame, but we all knew exactly what he meant. And he was a 40 year old 250 pound crime boss who looked like he would win a fight with an entire football team. Imagine what a ten year old boy must feel like in a similar situation. And that is why we all demand more from McQueary here. I am not sure exactly what he did or said in the moment, but it obviously wasn’t correct or enough. Maybe he thought going to his boss and father with his troubling eyewitness account was enough. And maybe he was then misled by those who outranked him on the food chain to speak no further of the incident, and that it would be handled by others from here on in…either way, McQueary has some serious explaining to do and clearly dropped the ball, but perhaps other than his missed opportunity to do the right thing in the moment, we will come to see that while Mike was wrong, others may have prevented him ultimately from doing the right thing later, to protect themselves, their jobs, their program and their once esteemed University…we shall see.
Which brings us back to Joe Pa. And I will once again hold full judgment until I hear the entire explanation and course of action taken in 2002 following the incident as well as for all of the years since that date. But from everything I have read and heard so far Paterno really dropped the ball. He seemingly took the account of Sandusky to his “boss,” the AD, and left it at that. I have the following thoughts:
A) Joe Pa has no boss at Penn State…he was the boss and final authority on everything in State College, PA, and not just for things concerning football…everything.
B) I cannot say this for sure as I do not have all of the facts, but it does not sound like Joe Pa followed up with his AD or any other higher up at PSU after delivering his account to his AD in 2002.
C) Based on his ridiculous message to those camped out on his lawn last night, where he referred to the victims as “victims or whatever they are” and then added this gem: “I think we ought to say a prayer for them because you know … tough life when people do certain things to you.” Tough life? That doesn’t even scratch the surface. And then he had the unmitigated temerity to start a pep rally chant. Seriously? How out of touch can a man get. Sure he is 84 years old, but he is ostensibly running a major college football program, right?
D) I grew up a big-time Nittany Lions fan. My mother and many other family members and close friends went to PSU. I loved Joe Pa just like so many others out there. He was seemingly incredible on so many levels: a great coach, a great mentor, ran a clean program in an increasingly difficult environment to do so, placed education above all else, did so much for his community and those less fortunate. He is and has been a great man, and though a single moment or event can often define a man, I will do all I can to remember Joe Pa for the vast good he has done over a six decade career.
E) But I cannot and will not ever forgive Joe Pa for this if it is confirmed that he found out anything untoward went on with Sandusky and a minor (graphic account or not) and all he did in the aftermath was deliver the news to his emasculated and un-empowered AD. Frankly, even if he did a little more than that (like maybe had a conversation with Sandusky, and even told him not to come around campus anymore, particularly with any children…which by the way, sickens me even more if Joe Pa knew enough to say something like that, which would mean he tacitly permitted such deviant behavior off campus). Joe Pa was deified on that campus and in that whole region of Pennsylvania. He was the law, the moral fiber and the pulse of that University. All eyes and ears were on him. For him to pass the buck, turn a blind eye and refuse to follow up to ensure appropriate action was taken in a situation like this with little children’s lives hanging in the balance is reprehensible, and frankly, almost as vile as the acts themselves. As a molder and shaper of young men, he had a moral and general responsibility to always do the right thing when it came to children, whether on his team or not.
F) I can’t help but remember yet another classic movie relating to this ordeal, particularly the Joe Pa/Curley-Sandusky-McQueary dynamic which evokes the Jessup-Kendrick-Dawson/Downey hierarchy in A Few Good Men. (Again, I don’t yet know what, if anything Joe Pa said to Sandusky or McQueary following the incident in 2002, or whether he and/or Curley ordered McQueary to remain silent). But anyway, at the end of the movie, when Jessep is found guilty, young and naïve PFC Louden Downey asks why he and Dawson are being discharged when Jessep admitted to ordering the code red. Dawson’s response is chillingly fitting here: “We did nothing wrong,” said Downey. “Yeah, we did. We’re supposed to fight for people who can’t fight for themselves. We’re supposed to fight for Willy.” I hope I don’t need to draw the parallel here for you.
G) And that about sums it up in my mind.
My final thoughts center around this “scandal” as a far more profound, but generally similar statement on the current state of collegiate athletics in our country. While the rape and subsequent cover up of child molestation is far worse according to the moral code of society than many of the other scandals that have rocked college campuses in the past few years, they all highlight a troubling trend that is becoming increasingly prevalent on campuses throughout our nation. The fact is that as more and more money is thrown at collegiate athletics (particularly football and basketball), these programs become way too powerful to be properly managed and overseen by their schools in general. And the leaders of these programs, who often earn more money per year than all other college officials and professors put together, often become power-driven ego maniacs who care only about winning and are willing to sacrifice their entire moral code to that end. Whether it is trading tattoos for money and sports memorabilia, providing or turning a blind eye to extravagant yacht trips and strip club misadventures, allowing shady Ponzi-scheme operators to have training room and on field access to team members, overlooking petty crimes, drug use, and date rape scandals, arranging for sexual escorts during recruiting parties, ignoring or tacitly approving improper pay-for-play scenarios with boosters and countless additional improprieties that clearly occur on many if not all major college campuses with competitive division one athletic programs, college coaches and their programs are increasingly corrupted amid a failing system.
One thing is certain, a culture exists not just at Penn State, but at major division one Universities across our nation, that fosters an atmosphere where winning is more important than anything…including morality. And for this, we all suffer.
My hope is that something positive comes out of this tragedy. That serious money is donated not just by Penn State and the Big Ten, but by all of college athletics, to develop and strengthen the protection of our nation’s youth, through outreach programs, education and better systems for bringing deviants to justice…systems that make it easier for victims to come forward as well as to educate and motivate the families of those affected. I also hope the game on Sunday is cancelled altogether, because it just isn’t the right thing to do to play a game in the face of this awful scandal. This isn’t the aftermath of 911, where our nation is grieving and needs a distraction from what seemed to be the end of days. This is a contained tragedy that has plagued a community and shocked a nation, and while I realize that the players on Nebraska and Penn State are not to blame for this fiasco, and therefore should not be penalized when they work so hard all year to play football, we should all remember that LIFE IS NOT FAIR. It is one game. And playing football and cheering in that stadium is so wrong on so many different levels at this time.
Questions need to be answered. People need to be brought to justice. And the victims, those poor, brave tortured souls need time to air their grievances. Call off the game Penn State and the NCAA. For once, do the right thing here.
We all need time to digest this horrific turn of events. We all need time to heal. Eight year olds dude. They’re pretty fuckin’ far from ok. We need to fight for people who can’t fight for themselves.
God help those victims. God help their families. God help us all.