The Penn State enquiry results are in. The frenzy has begun. The mob will seek vengeance and understandably so. The pundits are wailing alternately that Penn State officials behaved incomprehensibly, that college football is corrupted by money, or that we have a crisis of leadership in America, etc. The deconstruction will take many forms as we try to divorce ourselves from the scandal, but the one explanation we won’t want to hear is the one that weds us all to football, sexual abuse, and every cover-up that ever happened.
The culprits are the need of some to achieve and maintain status and dominance, and the rest of us to defer to them rather than think or act for ourselves. We send out the surrogates to take our hits for us. It’s the core of the game; not just the football game but the other game - the one that keeps the powerful on top and blocks those who would blow the whistle loud enough to stop the play. This victory lust pervades our institutions and the politics that bind them. Until we understand the consequences of our self-serving obsession to worship winners and scorn losers we will fail to hold the line on all kinds of abuse.
Losers experience intense feelings of shame, and festering shame begets shamelessness. A politician loses an election because he raised taxes; the son vows to never yield an inch on the issue, even if his country is in economic peril. A child is abused by an adult and he will never submit to anyone again, and if he does someone weaker than him will pay. The boss scolds the worker; the worker goes home and yells at her kid, the kid kicks the dog, the dog chases the cat, that cat leaves a mouse on the porch as a peace offering. But here is no peace in the land of winners and losers, only blame and bloodletting.
In the long run the tragedy of Penn State will not just be the abuse and the cover up; it will be the fact that once again we will miss the point after. We’ll tell the story of criminals and accomplices. We’ll righteously dole out blame to a “pervert”, a Paterno, and a college president. We’ll conveniently leave ourselves out of the narrative. We prefer it that way. Why should we ordinary men and women demand more of ourselves when even in institutions of higher education they seem to never really learn?
Freelance writer and faculty at UTC