Think

Penn State and the Privilege of Voice

By Shane’a Thomas

“Your silence will not protect you.”

If there are two things that America commits to wholeheartedly, it’s children. Particularly football.  Any violation of one or the other causes people to go ham, stir up, and cause an uproar. Especially, the latter.

The Penn State child sexual abuse scandal has recently been simultaneously the most talked about and not talked about incident in current times.  Through conversations, most people cannot get past the sentiment of how inappropriate it was, how disgusting humans can be, and how sorry people feel for children, yet the discussions of privilege, silence, and the lust for football are non-exist for the fear that when spoken about, football disappears.

Not caught up on the story? Well, let me break it down.

The Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky got caught with his pants down, his hands on young boys’ legs in a locker room shower, and a mouth full of lies among other things.  He founded The Second Mile, an organization that helps troubled young boys and absent and dysfunctional families.He also helps some young boys transform their athletic skills and make their football dreams come true.  Sandusky took the young boys to Penn State and professional football games, allowed them to stay at his house and gave them access to exclusive Penn State facilities such as the locker rooms and sports practice areas.  What young boy doesn’t want the opportunity to look out amongst a football field up close and picture themselves playing for Penn State, a school heavy with tradition and Joe Paterno love?  Being close to a person such as Sandusky was like winning the lottery, opening up opportunities that many will attempt but few will achieve.  But for some of these boys, more money equaled more problems.

One would think that once he had gotten caught in close physical proximity with a young boy at a high school showing him “wrestling moves”, he would stop.  How about when he was caught having anal sex with 10 year old male by a graduate student?  How about when the university president, head coach, and various authorities had gotten word of these acts?  Of course not.  The last thing a D-1 school needs is a sex scandal, especially not with little boys.  The speculation was tossed around from person to person like a hot potato, the smoke clouding up the stench of the lack of responsibility.  But the smoke cleared, and so did the conscious of these adults of high authority.  The children still suffer the scars of the burns. Lucky for the authorities, they are only emotional.

The Goddess Audre Lorde spoke words of gold when she said “Your silence will not protect you”, and how appropriate for this situation and for such a white male dominated area. For decades, sports have generally been embedded in countless of scandals and irresponsibility for the integrity of the game, most recently the numerous incidents of young boys to men getting paid money, clothes, cars and tattoos in exchange for sweat and a good image on the field (for some, this is their soul).  Each incident breaks way for the next scandal, another part of the country, even deeper than the last, but all the same.  Some adult male, white, privileged in class, status and resources, passing out gifts packaged as love and appreciation to young boys who will never learn the hard lessons of responsibility because everything was given to them to become men.  It’s scary to think that the patterns of child sexual abuse are played within these interactions behind the veil of sports all the time. “I’ll give you something sweet if you don’t tell.  If you do, I won’t pay your mom’s rent/give you extra clothes/pay you extra per diem/ (or the worst) give you premium access to getting into the NFL (or other professional leagues).”  For some, and bless the ones without a “male figure” in their home, football is their soul. For some, it’s worse than the threat of killing their family members.

So, as Sandusky lays in his bed at night, whether in guilt of relief, as Paterno lays his head on his pillow, in hiding or in loss of silence, those men now painfully reliving their boyhoods gather their voices in order to reclaim their souls. Sadly, they will be muffled by another scandal, or worst, outshined by another star player who’s existence is on the chopping block.

 

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