Penn State: Is Our Loyalty With Sports Teams or Abuse Victims?

Jerry Sandusky's arraignment on 40 criminal counts, including indictment on dozens of counts of child sexual abuse has rocked the sports world and the Penn State community. Yet as shocking as the news out of Happy Valley is, the most horrific part is not just what happened to those kids, but how easily the "next one" could have been saved.

The group of people who could have changed the fate of future victims was large enough to have made a difference. If Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary, Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley OR former vice president Gary Schultz had reported what was graphically witnessed, a monster may have been take off the streets much sooner. Instead the decision was made to simply restrict kids from Sandusky's charity from visiting the football building. No calls to 911 were made; the police were not notified and a monster remained on the streets to victimize kids for another nine years.

The obvious question here is why? The answer speaks to something much more covert going on. Did the five men involved in the cover-up really think that taking away the "location" would stop Sandusky's reprehensible behavior? That's like saying if you stop bringing vodka home the alcoholic will be cured. What about all of the other places in the world where booze can be found? Let alone all the little kids.

Fear and loyalty are a deadly mix when it comes to breaking out of a comfort zone and doing "the right thing" -- in this case, the two worked together to create a miserable mix of cover-ups, ongoing, preventable abuse and deceit. The actions taken by those people who had a chance to make an impact were so limited that it speaks to a ripple of tragedies in this tsunami. As reporters and the public start to make sense of what has happened, a few things are starting to add up.

Andy Staples, journalist at Sports Illustrated had this to say:

From the information contained in a grand jury presentment released Saturday, several powerful people at Penn State appeared to worry more about the brand of the football team than about the safety of a child... That is inexcusable, and it speaks to a need to change the power structure and the culture at Penn State. For too long, the school and the athletic department have felt they didn't need to answer to anyone. Now, the Pennsylvania attorney general's office and the U.S. Department of Education will come in asking questions the administration can't ignore. People will be held accountable. The findings to come could be ugly, but sunshine doesn't only light the darkest recesses. It also helps heal."

Ph.D. therapist and couples expert Dr. Tammy Nelson offered this:

Let's face it folks. This isn't about football or coaches or who you like better. The Penn State scandal is about what happened to those young boys in the shower stall. The horror of those 'alleged' moments is almost lost in the uproar and focus over the shakeup of an historical and cultural mob mentality that ignores the small and crushes the weak.

Even in the media coverage of the recent shakeup at the college the focus has been on the loving and loyal connection to the old guard football legends of coaching at Penn State. We ignore the victims of the abuse by a coach who was accused 18 times of abusing young boys and instead hear interviews and news coverage of nostalgia for the good old boy/good old days. That type of loyalty to the team spirit could have and should have kept all the team players safe and protected instead of throwing the weak and vulnerable to the wolves for the sake of the big game.

When asked what was necessary for Mike to go beyond reporting the incident to Joe Paterno, Mary Jo Rapini, counselor and Fox News contributor offered this:

In this case, the gentleman who first witnessed it needed to be able to see himself as the victim and honor what he would want someone to do for him. My guess is, what he saw may have been too traumatic and he was overcome with fear. He may have reached out to his mentor, [dad] and whoever that person was or guided him to do could have changed history. There is a very critical lesson for all of us within this story. We must begin speaking out no matter how powerful the players may be. The boy in the shower with Sandusky had no voice, and at that point we must be able to be the voice for the victim. The honor code for any boy to grow up and be stoic and 'take it' only perpetuates abuse.

When asked why Mike McQueary didn't come forth sooner, Trudy Johnson, therapist and author offered this:

Misplaced loyalty is often because a person has developed a trauma bond relationship and become loyal, attached or even supportive of a person who is manipulative, exploitative, abusive or toxic. This can be a powerful attachment that requires the trauma-bonded person to 'keep secrets.' The secrets being kept are the powerful force that keeps the person in bondage. Typically, a trauma bond relationship is applicable to sexually abused persons. They are traumatized by the horrible secret and are required or exploited by threats of breaking the secret. The power is in the secret.

The good-ol-boys network at Penn State was incredibly powerful at keeping secrets. But as secrets go, once they begin unraveling, it's a matter of time before the truth fully emerges. What we know, finally, is that Mr. Sandusky's secret is out. The people who were players in this coverup are being accused and held accountable, and that is the first step in healing.

The bottom line is this: Organizations that perpetuate secret keeping and loyalty of this nature have the potential to hurt thousands of people. The ripple in the pond around the cover-up, the discovery and the consequences have affected people who have past and current relationships with Penn State, those affected by sexual abuse, and raises the hair on the back of every parent's neck I know.

We cannot let this happen again. Our kids, all of our kids, deserve better.

And I'm with Andy about Joe Paterno's last comment, "and pray a little bit for those victims." No Joe, don't pray a little, pray a whole lot for them. A whole heck of a lot.