Gary Percesepe, a minister, shouldn’t be able to make these connections, but he does.
I’ve been sick with the flu for two days. Then I got sicker.
For several days I had been able to avoid looking at the news, all the social media pointing in the same direction, about this guy at Penn State, a football coach, who was doing what? To who?
When I heard about the tragedy at Penn State (let’s face it, that’s what it is), I took in as little as possible of the details. As a minister, I get lots of bad news every day without looking for it. I walk with people to places where they would rather not go.
A phone rings. It’s cancer. Someone got evicted. Someone else needs rent money, food, cannot pay the utility bill. No heat in the apartment, what about the children? No groceries. Who is up, who is down. The woman who gets a regular beating from her husband. Or maybe it’s a heart attack, friend dead at 41. Plan the funeral, do the funeral, next day hear the surviving partner tell how he had discovered evidence of his dead partner’s infidelity, the red-letter-A emails there for me to see, pictures, phone records, you name it. Evidence. Things that are sick, sick, sick.
Another day, another heartbreaking loss. You learn not to take it on. Boundaries. What I do is walk with people. I do what I can. Through the valley of the shadow of death. It’s not about you, it is about helping them, doing what you can. I accompany the living, and the dead, all the way to the grave.
Here’s the thing about social media. You can be going along, minding your own business, and someone will tweet something, and suddenly you are sick. You do not know this person, this football coach. Sandusky? Never heard of him. Paterno? Sure, you’ve heard of him; you have a friend who taught in the philosophy program there. You are aware of the legend, the Happy Valley, the clean program.
So someone tweeted Maureen Dowd from The New York Times, and along with millions of other readers, I got to read this:
Paterno was told about it the day after it happened by Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant coach who testified that he went into the locker room one Friday night and heard rhythmic slapping noises. He looked into the showers and saw a naked boy about 10 years old “with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky,” according to the grand jury report.
I got sick again, all over the walls of the bathroom.
But here’s the thing you learn as a minister: It is not about you. It is not about how sick you may feel, about how you feel depressed, as a Penn State alum or fan or faculty member, or embarrassed, or even ashamed. Those may be appropriate responses to the news, even necessary responses, but they are not sufficient.
So what is this about?
It is about a social system that has itself become sick—in this case, college football, where profits are elevated above people, where an institution or a coach’s reputation is deemed more important, more worthy of protection, than our children.
It is about what a Catholic social activist called “this dirty, filthy, rotten system.”
The children and young adults (we still do not know how many) were victimized first by a football coach, then by those who enabled him: coaches, police, administrators, a judicial system, a faculty, a staff, a university, a state, a nation. The victims were failed by the adults in their lives, not once, but twice.
But it is also about college football at the highest level—another male-dominated, insular culture, awash in television money, without accountability.
It is about the dangers of making a game into a religion. One that now has its own version of a clergy scandal.
The GMP on Penn State:
Paterno and Pedestals, Julie Gillis
Male Lust Arrives in Happy Valley, Tom Matlack
Destroying a Young Boy’s Soul, Ken Solin
Power Is at the Core of Sexual Harassment, Mervyn Kaufman
Men, Monsters, and the Media, Nicole Johnson
Loyalty and Responsibility at Penn State, Andrew Smiler
Jerry Sandusky and Penn State: A Familiar Story, Sophia Sadinsky
I Failed, Rick Morris
Sandusky-ed, Tim Green