What If It Had Been a Girl in the Shower?

 Tom Matlack wonders if the Penn State incident remained hidden for so long because what happened was beyond the scope of men inside football to even comprehend.

Daniel Mendelsohn, a professor at Bard College and well-known critic, asks us in today’s New York Times to consider the role of gender and homophobia in the events at Penn State.

“WHAT if it had been a 10-year-old girl in the Penn State locker room that Friday night in 2002?” he asks us.

His answer is that everything would have been different. The rape of a female child by an old man would have fit into the neat groove of what to do as a studly football player: beat the shit out of the guy and press charges. But the homosexual nature of the crime revealed a huge blind spot in sports where macho and homo just don’t mix. Fear enters the picture. Sexuality that is inexpressible, underground, and hidden if it raises its head out of the fox hole.

Real men beat each other at the line of scrimmage. On that topic please go read Kris Jenkins View of Life in the NFL Trenches, also out today. “You ever been in a car crash? Done bumper cars? You know when that hit catches you off guard and jolts you, and you’re like, what the hell? Football is like that. But 10 times worse. It’s hell.”

So real men don’t make out with each other or, a thousand times worse, fondle boys. It’s just beyond the scope of a man inside football to even comprehend. It has to be covered-up. And yet what is at stake here is a definition of manhood that we as a country can live with. One that has depth and compassion as well as strength. What PSU showed us, according to Mendelsohn, is that we are still a long way from any of that.

What lurks behind so many male athletes’ vociferous antipathy to homosexuality seems to be deep anxiety about masculinity, the very quality that aggressive team sports showcase. After all, a guy is never so much a guy as when he’s playing a violent game or hanging with his teammates afterward in the showers and locker rooms, “horsing around.” The familiar ferocious anti-gay swagger many athletes affect is likely meant to quash even the faintest suspicion that anything tender or erotic animates naked playfulness between men.

But true masculinity, like true sportsmanship, contains other virtues, too: forthrightness, honesty, fair play, courage in difficult situations, readiness to acknowledge error, concern for the weak as well as admiration for the strong. In their handling of Mr. Sandusky, the leaders of Penn State’s legendary football program failed to display a single one of these qualities. Maybe it’s time for a new kind of sports hero. What else are we supposed to conclude when grown men, trained to brave 300-pound linemen, run away from boys in trouble?

Amen to that, which isn’t to say that we don’t still have a very long way to go with dealing with sexual abuse of women. Just that at least inside sports we have some idea what the heck that is. When it comes to homo-erotic actions in the locker room, whether healthy or criminal, we can even begin to talk about it. And it’s about time we did.

About Tom Matlack

Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist.


  1. Nah.
    Look this is really simple. In our society women (and girls) are protected far more than men and boys. actually its not just our society but every society on earth and in recorded history I think…. had it been a girl she would have been protected.

  2. Peter Houlihan says:

    Just to the commentators who seem to think that this is a thought experiment with no directly citable real world event: its not. Female as well as male clergy abuse victims were equally covered up by the church to protect its integrity. When these victims came out they were equally shamed by some of the more right wing members of the community, but in general were equally recognised as genuine victims.

    The only part of the ugly mess that related to this argument was that male victims took longer to come forward about the abuse they suffered, probably due to the stigma against homosexuality. But the church authorities were more than willing to cover up the female victims.

    • Peter Houlihan says:

      In short, if it had been a girl in the shower it wouldn’t have made a difference. Except that one of the victims would have come forward sooner. The paedophile priest scandals leave no reason to believe that a female victim would have been treated any differently.

  3. Laura Gentle says:

    I’ve read several “What if…” articles regarding the witnessed shower rape. I appreciate the scenarios the articles put forth, in an attempt to frame the issue in a more relatable context. What’s missing from all of the articles, including this one, is a clear dialogue about the following:

    1. Homosexuality is a normal sexual identity, and has nothing to do pedophilia
    2. This is not about sexuality, it is about power and child abuse
    3. It is also about the powerful college athletics industry that prioritizes image and money above law and morality

    While I understand the connection of a sports world ideal of masculinity, what is and is not a “real man,” to the culture of homophobia (and misogyny,) this is in stark contrast to child sexual abuse studies. When sexual abuse of a child is witnessed and not reported, it has more to do with fear of reporting. Often times in situations with family, a witness may not want to report the abuse for fear of that family member being arrested, or for fear of getting into trouble or being accused of lying if they report it (from the family, from others, etc.)

    I agree that are deep rooted negative mentalities toward sexuality, gender, and even what constitutes abuse, within the sport world, and these conversations should happen more and more. But I would advise caution into thumping misguided connections as a starting point.

    • I agree with most of what you’ve said here and is the point I tried to make in my comments. The author should, instead of asking “What if it had been a girl in the shower?” ask, “What if the abuser hadn’t been a famous football coach at a top tier football program?” That is the heart of why this went on so long and why there is guilt on so many people’s hands. There was something rotten in the core of the Penn State program and as a result, Sandusky was free to prey on children. It doesn’t matter the victims’ gender, it matters that they went unprotected by many, many adults who had opportunities to stop this all, but chose not to to protect the School’s image and program. Asking what if they were girls misses the point that it matters when adults neglect their obligations to protect innocent children.

  4. The entire premise of this article is ridiculous and the author provides no evidence of the hypothesis. This hypothesis that this went on so long because of sports society’s inability to handle homosexual acts doesn’t hold any weight given that it includes administrators who turned the other way, as well as police officers (the officers overheard what was essentially a confession to one of the mothers and did not act), not just “jocks.” Such a claim is actually alarmingly naive. It attempts to put blame on “the rest of us” for somehow not being accepting enough of homosexuality to recognize the crime here. Such a perspective would have us look at society when a crime happens to see “where did society go wrong in creating an environment for this crime to occur.” That perspective ignores that a real monster existed at Penn State for many decades preying on innocent kids and he was allowed to do so, regardless of the kid’s genders, because he was a successful coach in one of the more prominent football programs in the country. This crime continued as long as it did because of the status of Sandusky in the community and in the football program in particular. The real question this author should ask has nothing to do with the homosexual nature of the acts and wondering “is it because it was gay that society was scared to touch this issue?” The real question to ask is “why is it that prominent athletes and coaches get a pass if they are successful at winning?” Or, “How can we ensure EVERYONE who knew about these actions and did nothing is punished to the full extent of the law?”

  5. What if it had been a female coach abusing the boy? Or a female coach abusing a girl? We could play the “What If” game all day but I think it’s a ridiculous thing to do. Now you’re (not just you Tom, but commenters also) blaming a group of people for something that didn’t even happen, and literally making up what you think they would’ve said in different circumstances. It’s fiction and conjecture. Hardly the stuff I want to read about the Penn State controversy.

    I believe people were horrified because it was a child. Boy or girl, I don’t think it would’ve made a difference. It would’ve been covered up regardless, because from everything I’ve been reading Paterno et al will go to any length to make sure Happy Valley stays happy and innocent. I don’t think this was about homosexuality.

    But let’s at least stick to the facts instead of making up situations that didn’t happen.

    • I agree. Debating possible scenarios and outcomes had this horrible situation presented itself in any number of different ways is purely speculative. But then again, so is this piece. Tom could easily have a point and perhaps it’s an issue worth discussing, but it should be done separately from this case. Ultimately we don’t know what JoePa’s motive for cover-up was. The “homosexual nature” of the act, the desire to protect the reputation of an organization he had spent most of his life devoted to, the fact that maybe the guy is just a real asshole. We don’t know, we can’t assume. What we DO know is that an awful crime was committed and covered up and those involved should be held accountable. End of story.

  6. Tom Matlack says:

    I’m interested in the pushback I am getting for writing this here and on FB/Twitter from those who argue that I am saying that I am minimizing sexual abuse of women/girls (which I am not) and somehow connecting pedophilia with healthy homosexuality (which I also am not).

    I am quite clear on the massive under-reporting of sex trafficking and rape of young girls. Full stop. No one needs to try to convince me of it. I am convinced and write about it frequently.

    I also am quite clear that pedophilia in no way colors whether or not homosexuality is a worthy of full acceptance and rights (like marriage et al). Pedophilia is a criminal form of abuse. Sexuality, whether straight or homosexual, is a normal human expression of love. I do think, however, that fear of homosexuality (“Homophobia”) can play a role in how people respond to pedophilia particularly inside sports.

    That’s really the question here: whether or not homophobia colored the men involved, making it harder for them to do the right thing. I happen to think it might and that dealing with homophobia might help in the future. But that doesn’t diminish in any way the need to address the sexual abuse of women and girls.

    • Tom – There is clear evidence of Homophobia is sports and at PSU.

      There is even concern that JoePa was manifesting and supporting Homophobia against PSU Policy from 1992 onwards.

      Did Homophobia as in disgust cause people to think and act a particular way – as in the primary motivation? I think not. But when you have an institution which has a pubic face and a private one rules by internal conflict, it gets very hard to act the right way. It becomes more about keeping the crew happy rather than sailing stormy seas. Any good captain knows when that happens the ship can founder.

      This link may bring some perspective?

    • Marcus Williams says:

      I hear you, Tom, but the reason I was one of those getting that wrong impression was from this:

      But the homosexual nature of the crime revealed a huge blind spot in sports where macho and homo just don’t mix.

      If it had been a man raping a girl in the shower, would it make sense to talk about “the heterosexual nature of the crime”? Not really, because that would be implying something inherently criminal or deviant about being heterosexual. It would just be considered a crime, not a heterosexual crime. Making a point to describe it as a “homosexual crime” implies a link between homosexuality and pedophilia that heterosexuality lacks. I don’t think that’s what you think or meant to say, but that kind of phrasing was what gave me that initial impression. I do think a lot of people think there *is* such a link, even if you don’t.

      • Okay Marcus but in order to talk about the impact of homophobia in the cover up you have to acknowledge that the crime was homosexual in nature.

        • Well Tom it was Pedophile In Nature. But as with all things social change has to be factored in.

          It’s an interesting statistic that 80% of people support LGBT rights, but they only believe that 30% of other people do. Social Perceptual Bias is a complex issue.

          If some old guard types at PSU are living in the past and mixing issues, that makes it almost worse! If society has moved on it even makes the anger more valid. It’s not just anger at what has happened, but also ad the underlying factors – real or perceived.

        • Julie Gillis says:

          How many pedophiles identify publicly as hetero? I’m asking as I don’t know.

          • Oh my smart friends, how I love this discourse! I somehow agree with all of you in ways. Guessing what would happen if it were a girl rather than a boy is basically a thought experiment, as really we’re just exploring here.

            I think what I’m most interested in here is the idea that the same-sex nature of abuser and victim somehow caused a sense of shame within the witnessed that ran deep enough for him to run away and keep it a secret. Perhaps that shame came from a larger and more profound shame about any sort of same-sex activity, perhaps it came from a disbelief that this piece of sh** assailant would have an interest in ANYONE male, let alone a child.

            What I wonder about is the fear upon the realization of the vulnerability of male to be victimized. I wonder if this is why men (in general) often have a hard time accepting that men can be raped by women. Or why they often wonder whether male victims of male sexual perps were somehow “gay” and therefore “wanted” it.

            What would the average straight male in our society be forced to feel if he realized that men are, in fact, vulnerable? They may know it intellectually (“sure it COULD happen, but it seems pretty unlikely”), but not truly realize the reality of sexual abuse upon males. You guys (men, in general) have been the ones in control of sexuality for thousands of years, as a group. Even though abuse of men and boys has always been true, and has ALWAYS been wrong, sexual politics and sexual power have been controlled by men as a group as long as history has been recorded, in most societies.

            What if that security were suddenly undermined right in your face? What if you’d been taught to protect girls, to never hit a lady, to respect your elders, and you walked in to have everything you believed crumble from underneath you? This witness should have punched him, should have done ANYTHING physically possible to get that piece of sh** away from that and all children. His lack of effective prevention of further crimes should be criminal in and of itself.

            However, upon examining how sexual politics may have affected his psychology at that moment, we can maybe further understand why it may have been different were it a girl. He had probably heard his Dad say, “protect your sister” or “never let a guy hurt a girl” or “never hit a girl”. He may have known, intrinsically, that this girl needed protecting, and there may not have been that undercurrent of confusing psychology that prevented him from murdering that piece of sh** (can you tell I find it hard to even utter that disgusting person’s name?).

            I teach my two boys not to protect girls, but to protect anyone who is being done wrong. I teach them to always defend one another and to stand by one another. Never once have I said, “You don’t hit girls.” I say, “You don’t hit people, unless you need to protect your body from being hurt.”

            This is what I’ve been mulling over since I read Tom’s fantastic piece. Agree or disagree, it presents important lessons for those of us who are parents.

            • Jun Kafiotties says:

              “You guys (men, in general) have been the ones in control of sexuality for thousands of years, as a group.”

              Women have controlled sexuality since time began. It’s up to the man to win over the woman, as woman have 1 timeperiod of childbearing and must be selective whereas a male could impregnate many females. Our culture runs the automatic males always want sex stereotype which gives females the power of choice. A man will be shamed for not having sex, a woman will be shamed for having sex. If he is more likely to choose to have sex and she is less likely, then ultimately she has the power of when sex happens. Women have the power to say no, and also in this age the power to say yes (sexual freedom is much higher than before). A man saying no however, who will believe that? Seems he can only say yes and if he isn’t, he’s a failure.

          • Julie – current research indicates that it’s the same as the general adult population, but…….

            At the same time, pedophilia is also seen as a Unique Sexuality in and of itself. So is the person who is married with kids shamming to hid they are a pedophile, or do they even have two sexualities. If they target same sex kids they could even be seen as having three sexualities.

            Then throw in the mix of Legal Definitions, Psychiatric Definitions and even where the age boundaries are drawn and it gets very messy. Hebephilia – Ephebophillia – and other terms that indicate a negative view.

            It is recognized that the whole subject area has been under researched for years – due to funding issues and even people believing the research is not needed – the answers are self evident they think !

            Sound familiar?

            Even professionals who are dealing with the complexities around professional ethics get hammered. Have a look at http://www.b4uact.org and then have a look at how they are portrayed by critics.

            • “At the same time, pedophilia is also seen as a Unique Sexuality in and of itself.”

              GLBT advocates do not like it when pedophilia is called a “sexuality” or an “orientation.” Supposedly, it may malign them by association.

              Why is pedophilia set aside as a category unto itself? Is it set aside solely for moral and legal reasons? Has there been some kind of research indicating that pedophiliac sexual attraction is psychologically and/or physiologically distinct?

              Some pedophiles are gender indiscriminate and target children of any sex. So perhaps those persons may fit into the “unique sexuality” hypothesis.

              However, sexual/gender preference does seem to factor into the choice of victims for many pedophiles. Some pedophiles prefer children of the opposite sex. And some prefer children of the same sex.

              Although their sexual preference for juveniles may be some “sexuality unto itself,” heterosexual or homosexual attraction does seem to factor into the actions of many pedophiles and their choices of victims.

              • “GLBT advocates do not like it when pedophilia is called a “sexuality” or an “orientation.” Supposedly, it may malign them by association.”

                Totally agree and see exactly where you are coming from Megalodon!

                However – it does not change the ways that medicine, neurophysiology and other disciplines are looking at the subject.

                The use of function MRI scanning is revealing a great deal about how some brains are hard wired and control behavior – even behavior labeled antisocial and immoral.

                There are already cases where evidence of Brain Abnormality has meant that death penalty has not been applied. Only a life sentence. Scientific understanding is changing laws and social norms – and people will have to catch up!

                One discovery that does have a bearing on the recent PSU events is that trauma can cause physical changes that can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Trauma can lead to functional brain changes that last a life time. There is a window of 3 to 6 months from Trauma to prevent this. So- when it comes to cases of child sexual abuse – fast reporting and intervention can prevent a ruined life, in more ways than one.


        • Marcus Williams says:

          To me, part of the homophobia is perceiving the crime as homosexual in nature. Yes, it was a same-sex crime, but if it was opposite-sex sex abuse, I don’t think we’d be calling it a heterosexual crime, would we? I don’t know if Sandusky self-identified as religious, but if he did, would we call his actions [fill in the faith] crime? He’s married, so was it a bisexual crime?

          It’s a subtle point, and I’m not accusing you of being homophobic, but I think referring to it as “a homosexual crime” perpetuates the homophobia, rather than just making it possible to discuss it. Why does same-sex pedophilia make people think it’s a homosexual crime despite there being an abundance of opposite-sex pedophilia?

          • Perhaps it didn’t need to be said is your point but what Tom said was and is factual. Marcus, but the crime was a forced homosexual sex act on a small boy, which is relevant to the victims if there are heterosexual.

            So, not only was it a crime but, as boys who are heterosexual have pointed out (when they have grown older) they were even more traumatized because it caused sexual confusion. Girls who are raped by men have trauma but not the added homo/heterosexual confusion that boys face as they get older.

            So, Tom’s statement is entirely valid and not homophobic.

            • Wow – so if you are a young female and raped by a male – and lesbian, you suffer less long term trauma and no confusion over sexuality?

              I’d love to see the stats to back up the argument!

              Children who are sexually abused within the context of their own sexuality do not have to deal with sexuality confusion as they grow up? Plain Wrong! Many Do!

              How about a young female who is sexually assaulted by another woman, and there is no penetration and so no rape? The young female is heterosexual. According to some she should have no trauma.

              There is some real embedded sexism here, that some just can’t see – it’s so ingrained.

              There is an unhealthy use of the word “rape” linked to penetration. Not all sexual abuse involves penetration of a body cavity. It just sets up a spectrum that does not address the experiences of the people targeted, male or female.

              The His Trauma is Greater than Her Trauma is also unacceptable.

              Revolving the whole subject round gender and sexuality causes much confusion – not just for the general public, but also for the people targeted.

              I’m glad that the people who work with the abused don’t treat people with these narrow attitudes and damaged mind sets.

              • “Wow – so if you are a young female and raped by a male – and lesbian, you suffer less long term trauma and no confusion over sexuality?”

                “I’d love to see the stats to back up the argument!”

                Feel free to answer that since I didn’t comment on it.

                “Children who are sexually abused within the context of their own sexuality do not have to deal with sexuality confusion as they grow up? Plain Wrong! Many Do!”

                I never said that weren’t the case.  The point is whether that boy is a homosexual or not.  If he is heterosexual but was raped by a man, it causes confusion.  Many men have said as much.  This is simple.

                “How about a young female who is sexually assaulted by another woman, and there is no penetration and so no rape? The young female is heterosexual. According to some she should have no trauma.”

                Not sure who “some” is but, again, I didn’t comment on that directly.

                “The His Trauma is Greater than Her Trauma is also unacceptable.”

                It’s an additional trauma, not necessarily greater.  Here’s an example.  A person assaulted by a stranger has trauma.  A person assaulted by their own parent has “additional” trauma; they have an additional (or more than one) issue to deal with.  That doesn’t dismiss the experience of the person assaulted by the stranger but clearly the one assaulted by a trusted person has additional issues to deal with.

                • “I never said that weren’t the case. The point is whether that boy is a homosexual or not. If he is heterosexual but was raped by a man, it causes confusion. Many men have said as much. This is simple.”

                  It does not matter the gender of the Victim or their sexuality at the time of the assault – victims having sexuality issues post event is common to all. The sex and sexuality of the attacker is not a determining factor.

                  You seem to be hung up on sex and sexuality to prove points.

                  • You’ve offered no basis for your claims or your disagreement with my points.

                    A boy raped by a man may have issues related to his homo/heterosexuality that a girl raped by a man would not thusly have. That’s quite obvious viewed with any objectivity at all.

                  • It does not matter the gender of the Victim or their sexuality at the time of the assault – victims having sexuality issues post event is common to all. The sex and sexuality of the attacker is not a determining factor.
                    Actually one’s gender and sexuality CAN have an effect on the trauma they suffer.

                    A straight guy raped by a guy may be conflicted if he felt some sort of pleasurable response (such as, “I’m straight but I had an erection.”)

                    A straight woman raped by a woman my be conflicted for the same reason (like, “I’m straight but I had an orgasm when she raped men.”)

                    Or a gay guy raped by a woman or lesbian raped by a man.

                    Yes they can.

  7. Janet Dell says:

    Here is an exercise for everyone on here who thinks that abuse of women/girls doesn’t get much press coverage.

    Go to http://www.cnn.com for the next month, count how many days you don’t see a story about abuse of a woman/girl, the murder of a woman/girl or an article detailing how bad women/girls have it in todays world.

    I highly doubt you will see a single day without a headline on the front page without one of those stories.

    This story is getting big press because it was a well known sports figure who got charged, not because of the gender of the victims.

    • Agreed. You don’t even have to follow a news site for a month. Just look at when a high profile case breaks. 9 times out of 10 the victim in said case is a girl/woman. Now folks can fool themselves into thinking that’s the case solely because girls/women are more likely to be victims of such violence if they want to. Hell look at a lot of the high profile missing child cases. The vast majority of them are (white) girls.

      Switching the victim to a girl wouldn’t automatically translate into not being taken seriously because its pretty clear (or I think it does) that when it comes to such cases there are a lot of people who take female victims more seriously than male victims. It MIGHT translate that way but its far from certain.

      • Males are victims of assault, including sexual assault, 3x more often than females. Males are murdered 4x more often than females.

  8. I think that I agree… but it’s hard to say. I do see some Siu’s comment – there are still a lot of (completely irrational) reasons to cover-up anything that will bring down a hero among us- especially in the high-power, high-money world of sports.

    However – I do think the point remains: The fact that it was a little boy makes it somehow easier to turn the other cheek. I know that sounds weird but… because it was a little boy, and because of all the homophobia in sports, it doesn’t fit into the clear picture of sexual abuse that people would be *most likely* to bring to light – which is to say, people don’t like bringing sexual abuse to light period, especially when perpetrated by someone we admire and who does good things in other aspect of their lives (e.g. Michael Jackson, Julian Assange, see a recent post about R Kelly at Naked With Socks On). When it’s man-on-boy, it adds this whole additional layer of discomfort, and allows us to walk away, ignore it, instead of see it for what it is and stop it. Not that there is ANYTHING ok with that. But still.

    In addition, I think it allows us to somehow take the victim out of the equation. I know that sounds strange, but we turn away from the little boy because of homophobia (i.e. now the little boy is a homo..?), when we may have (*may have*) defended the little girl.

    To me, this also (strangely) touches on Ms. Day’s comment above, too. We slut-shame young girls to take them out of the equation, as well (i.e. she *must* have been slutty to warrant that kind of abuse). We may not go looking for reasons to see them as something other than a victim, but we happily take the excuses when we can, so we can turn the other cheek more readily.

  9. It is clear that it our society does not act to protect boys as it does girls. This is one of a number of examples of that. Boys and girls certainly aren’t the same but boys should at least be respected as people.

    • The boy will be expected to be stoic, unable to confide his emotional devastation and ultimately women will not care as much because it wasn’t a little girl in the shower. I hope he has some strong men in his life that will help him through this.

  10. I find the argument interesting but ultimately I disagree.

    Abuse against girls and women is covered up, hidden, and largely ignored on a regular basis. Abuse against women is common to the point that it’s unsurprising and not shocking to people anymore. This kind of press is rarely lent to crimes against women and girls. The women are more likely to be accused of lying or “deserving it” or of doing something that caused the rape or abuse. If it had been a girl in the shower she’d probably have to defend herself against accusations of dressing provocatively and leading the coach on.

    • Peter Houlihan says:

      When rape by women against men isn’t even recognised as possible and rape by women against boys is barely recognised as wrong, I beg to differ. And if you haven’t noticed the kind of press generated when the institutional abuse of girls is covered up in this manner I’m not really sure what planet your newspapers come from.

      Show me an example of the mainstream press slut-shaming a victim of clergy abuse and your argument might begin to hold water.

      As for female victims of rape being accused of “deserving it” or “causing it” can you point out to me a country where a man in the same situation is even legally recognised as having been wronged? Women rape victims may be accused of wanting it, its *assumed* that male ones do.

  11. The linking of Child Sexual Abuse to Homosexuality is an issue that is fraught with peril.

    To many it is an old rotten chestnut that is itself abusive. It is no surprise that some religious types have attempted to capitalize on the PSU events and get it rolled out again. I have no doubt that they have been using pulpits all over the land to expound on it. In fact, it was not surprising that some sought media attention very quickly after the story broke. I did note that they failed to mention concern for any potential victims. Some would see that as less than Christian.

    That aside, there is Homophobia in sports. It is corrosive and destructive. Not just for the team, but for the players too. It was covered here on TGMP back in October – and the video footage of Gus Johnston (Australian) is both telling and moving. http://goodmenproject.com/good-feed-blog/gus-johnston-the-reality-of-homophobia-in-sport/

    Sports men and women across the globe have been raising the issue for decades. There is quite a Hall of fame of NFL players who came out after they had retired. Glenn Burke, Roy Simmons, Ed Gallagher and many more. How about Mr Universe – Bob Paris.

    Is there, or have there been issues with Homophobia in sport as PSU? The answer to that would appear Yes. The The Jennifer Harris case (2005 – settled confidentially 2007) and resignation of Rene Portland Coach indicate there clearly was – as does media coverage of the time. Portland was on the record from 1991 as her rules being “No Drink, No Drugs, No Lesbians.”. The harassment of Harris who Portland believed as Gay proved very corrosive – and prompted many others to speak of their experiences. It is a matter of record that some seen as powerful at PSU in the field of sport supported Coach Portland.

    That homophobia was there at PSU when the so recently exposed events were occurring.

    Did Homophobia play a role in this present case, and if it did, how big a part? Only certain central figures can answer that one. Was Homophobia endemic, systemic, overt, covert – or simply just there and affecting perception of morality and team?

    If it was an issue, then maybe it’s a good thing that people who could be described as Old Guard are gone. Some where known to hold religious views, and it’s quite possible that those views were allowed to override other obligations that PSU held. It is possible that one person with strong held views can hold a whole group in a vice like grip.

    If PSU let homophobia play a part, then they have a bigger issue than just what happened to Kids of a certain age. PSU will have been working against it’s own core values and the cry of “We Are” has been shallow and false for a long time. In fact, many have held that view for a some time, so it’s quite possible that the unfolding events are part of a bigger picture and a moral malaise that has been allowed to fester.

    I smile at your line “So real men don’t make out with each other…”. I would love to see the faces of many as they look at a picture of Brian Sims and wonder at him sucking face with some other (sports)man. I wonder what Mr Sims would say to the idea that he’s not a real man?

    If PSU has an issue with Homophobia in sports, maybe they need to look at the example of Brian Sims, openly gay, 6’2” and weighing 260lbs, a Scholar Athlete, NCAA Football Captain, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. It’s only 40 miles down interstate 80 from PSU, but it appears that the distance was far greater.

    In 2000 Sim’s team mates were worried when he was in the closet. They had figured out he was Gay. The team were worried that if anyone said anything he took the wrong way he could be keeping a tally and use it against people in the team. That was eating team moral. The team was all important as was winning. He said hey Guys I like cock and they said fine, no problem. The risk to team cohesion was addressed and the team played on and even won. Odd how the call of “We Are” found an alternate home. .

    I also wonder if it had all happened at Bloomsburg, if the story would have come out different? I have to say yes, but I don’t believe that Homophobia is anywhere near the central cause of delay and cover up.

    I think that in this case we have Money speaking louder than Morals and egos that believed themselves invincible. Failure to investigate fully and in detail may have been linked to Homophobia, but cover up Is all Money.

    • It’s hard to know which comment to respond to in this thread, but something in this one hits on the core issue that needs to be addressed, in ALL sexual assault and rape cases. That is that rape – of anybody at any age – is not about sex. It is a violent crime. It is about power and violence, and nothing else. Does it have sexual undercurrents? Only in that it weaponizes sexual body parts to become the vehicles of abuse and torture. But by mixing up with sex, we allow things like the gender and sexual orientation of both victims and assailants to become the point, which it is not.

      The point must remain that this is a violent crime. It does not matter who commits it against whom. The person who commits rape is a rapist, period, end of statement.

      It does not reflect on the victim, or the witness for that matter.

      Suggesting that football jocks are somehow unable to recognize violence because it confuses them about their own concepts of sexuality is proof of the point – though I also think it’s blatantly ridiculous. Although anyone in any profession, from any walk of life has both the brain capacity and the strength to recognize the rape of a child as a violent crime, we, as a society, have built in all these “buts” that justify both the rape and the failure to stand up against it.

      In “classic” rape cases we ask what the woman was wearing, where she was, what she was doing. We need it to be her fault so that we can somehow separate ourselves from it, as if we can be different and prevent it that way. (We can’t, it has nothing to do with the victim, whether that victim is us or one of our neighbors.) In this case, we need to believe that Sandusky couldn’t have done it, because that makes our children safer – then their coaches couldn’t do it because their coaches are “great guys.” (Or women.) We don’t want to believe that this could happen to us or anyone we love.

      We feel shame about it. And I think that shame is largely because we connect it with sex – and as a society we are still driven by fear and shame when it comes to sex in general.

      We MUST separate sex from rape in our collective minds. This is a violent crime and it should be looked at as such, so that we can look with eyes that are more open and more able to look at it in its entirety. We need to focus on the rapists as the problem, and look at them as violent criminals, and understand that comes in lots of shapes and sizes.

      As long as we continue to connect sex and rape, rather than looking at it as a violent crime, we will not look closely enough at it, and we will not address the core problems – the violent criminals who commit rape against women, girls, boys and men. We will not see that a “straight” happily married successful athlete could be a rapist, because we are not looking for the psychological underpinnings of a violent criminal, just of a “creepy gay guy,” which is an irrelevant imaginary metric that clearly does more harm than good. And is easy to “fake.”

      This has nothing to do with whether or not Sandusky was gay. He may not be, actually. Because rape is rarely about sex and almost always about power, this may not be a sexual thing for him. Further, even suggesting a connection (which the author of this comment did not do, but suggested that questions about sexuality may have fed the silence,) allows us to fear the idea of homosexuality and homosexuals. Further creating shame and powerlessness and fear around our sexuality.

      Rape is not about sex. It is about power and violence. Sex is a consensual act between adults. Rape is not, no matter the age, gender and sexuality of the people involved.

      • Thanks for writing this, Alyssa. While I understand some of Toms points in this piece, his article uses “homosexual rape” as a descriptor, and the fact is that rape is not “gay” or “straight .”. Rape is not about sex, and to imply that it is is an injustice to the boys and girls and men and
        Women and everyone in between who have been raped.

      • Peter Houlihan says:

        I wouldn’t be so sure. Different rapists rape for different reasons, sometimes its purely about sex and domination doesn’t enter into it.

  12. I have to disagree here.

    I’ve seen a lot of press coverage of Catholic priest sexual abuse of children, and it appears to be for both girls and boys. And cover-up seems to be in full force for both cases.

    The cover-up for Penn State may have partially to do with some kind of “homo shame,” but ultimately the football program is seen by the school, its board, and its athletic department as the school’s pride and cash cow. So had it been a girl in the shower, would they have pressed charges? Doubtful. It’s all about the money.

  13. I agree Tom, the fact that it was a little boy made it more possible to continue. It’s very sad that I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’d rather have a little boy than a girl because you don’t have to worry about boys. Really? That’s exactly what pedophiles are counting on.

    • Actually people would rather have girls because they are seen as better. You can look up the stats now because you can get gizmos for trying to fix the gender of your baby these days. Most people want girls.

  14. Tom–your question made me think of this essay by Frank Deford who ponders, “Is Football Culture the Core of the Problem?” Of course, it is at the core along with any other hyper-masculine arenas that reinforce a manly facade while ignoring all other aspects of what it means to be a man. Obviously, though, it is not strictly limited to football as we know–Catholic priests don’t play football, do they? No, it is clear, as you say, that this behavior is so outside of the limits of what is even perceivable that “the homosexual nature of the crime revealed a huge blind spot in sports where macho and homo just don’t mix.” That it happened to a boy…well, let’s put just put that somewhere unreachable. I do believe that the only bright spot is that people are talking about this in ways that I haven’t seen. I just hope it actually helps.

  15. Tom, I totally agree with this. The homosexual nature of the crime definitely contributed to how it was covered up and perpetuated, and psychologically, you are very much onto something. And let me state, again, unequivocally: Tom, you have hit the nail on the head!

    Everybody, listen up: I have AGREED with Tom.

    Everybody also hear this: I am sticking to the topic in the title of the article that asks, “What if it had been a girl in the shower?” So please, no accusations of changing the topic to “whataboutthewomenz.” I am answering Tom’s question. I am “on-topic.”

    If it had been a girl in the shower, it may well be that someone would have acted to stop the rape.

    Here’s what else might also have happened…

    People may have asked, and the press may have asked, and bloggers may have written…

    What had she been wearing? Was she slutty? Did she like older men? Did she have a “reputation?” Did she ask for it in some way? Did she like it? Had she done it before?

    Those are things I think might also have happened if it had been a girl in the shower.

    • People may have asked, and the press may have asked, and bloggers may have written…

      What had she been wearing? Was she slutty? Did she like older men? Did she have a “reputation?” Did she ask for it in some way? Did she like it? Had she done it before?

      Those are things I think might also have happened if it had been a girl in the shower.


      • I agree. If it had been a 10-year-old girl in the shower, we would have eventually hear about how she came to be there. About how she was a real fangirl, just crazy about the team, the kind of girl who might’ve done anything to feel closer to them. There also would have been many dismayed cries of “Where was her mother, letting her hang around a place like that alone with grown men?” Because mothers (not so much fathers) are expected to keep their daughters in line, to keep them out of trouble. Boys are allowed their freedom, but her mother would have been blamed for not keeping a better eye on her, and not having taught her to avoid situations like that and avoid tempting men to do bad things to her. So she would have been shamed, AND her mother would have been shamed. That’s what I think would have happened.

    • I haven’t met Tom yet, so haven’t had the same opportunities to disagree with him! However, I do agree with Lori. Katha Pollitt and Fran Deford both pointed out this double standard how the gender of the victimized children modifies our cultural response. Either way, it ends up being the same thing if you consider the misogyny, and deep seated disdain for the feminine in all it’s manifestations, that informs the type of homophobia and hyper-masculinity that Tom describes.

    • “What was she wearing? Was she slutty? Did she like older men? Did she have a reputation? Did she ask for it? Did she like it? Has she done this before?” For Christ sake , on a 10 year old! What kind of sick people do you hang with!?!

    • Peter Houlihan says:

      “What was she wearing? Was she slutty? Did she like older men? Did she have a reputation? Did she ask for it? Did she like it? Has she done this before?”

      Asked of a ten year old? No, I don’t think so. Younger child victims of rape don’t tend to get those questions.

      An adolescant victim? Possibly. And I do agree, that a male victim would be less likely to have had those questions asked in that situation. But only because it was a homosexual encounter. In the few incidents of Woman-Boy paedophilia that see the light of day, its not so much asked as *assumed* that they were asking for it. The idea that they weren’t and their real victimhood isn’t even considered possible.


  1. […] sexual abuse. Editor’s Note: This originally appeared as a comment on Tom Matlack’s post “What If It Had Been a Girl in the Shower?” The linking of child sexual abuse to homosexuality is an issue that is fraught with peril. To many […]

  2. […] Editor’s Note: This originally appeared as a comment on Tom Matlack’s post “What If It Had Been a Girl in the Shower?” The linking of child sexual abuse to homosexuality is an issue that is fraught with peril. To many […]

  3. […] What If It Had Been a Girl in the Shower? Good Men Project | Nov. 20 “Tom Matlack wonders if the Penn State incident remained hidden […]

  4. […] been thinking about Tom Matlack’s piece, “What If It Had Been a Girl In the Shower?” and wondering what it is, exactly, that caused the grown man who witnessed this hideous, horrible […]

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