Penn State, Sexual Assault, and the Abuse of Power
A lot has confused me about the outrage about Penn State's apparent cover-up of its former assistant coach's serial molestation and assault of children. Football is lousy with entitled rapists. No, I'm not saying that all football players rape. But I am saying that we hear football-rapist stories regularly. Most women know someone who was (or were themselves) groped, date-raped, or sexually assaulted by a high school or college football player who thought he owned whatever walked by. Consider what commentator Michele Weldon wrote in the Chicago Tribune:
In late October, a Texas youth football coach in Abilene was arrested on charges of sexual assault with a child and two counts of indecency with a child. This past summer, a Rhode Island youth football coach was arrested on sexual assault and child molestation charges. A few weeks after that, an Omaha, Neb., youth football league organizer was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a girl. A youth soccer coach from a south suburb of Chicago was charged with sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy and possession of child pornography. A Virginia youth basketball coach was charged with first-degree statutory sex.
Similarly, coaches for basketball, cheerleading and softball from Illinois, Florida and Nevada have been charged in the past few years with sexual molestation.
Perhaps more to the point, while coach Joe Paterno and Penn State's president have been fired, the assistant coach who actually witnessed Sandusky raping a child in Penn State's locker room showers—and neither stopped the rape nor reported it to the police—is still working there. Really?
So I've wondered, as I've long wondered with the Catholic priest scandals: Would this have exploded all over the news had the man been abusing girls, or would the girls have been blamed for dressing like sluts? Why is the reaction to this cover-up so different from the reaction to, say, the allegations that Herman Cain abused power with predatory sexual behavior toward women?
But as I've noted before, I'm a complete stranger to the culture of sports. I had never heard of Joe Paterno until the failure-to-report scandal took over the world of commentary. So someone offered me this analogy: If the president of Togo covered up a child's rape, it might be a local story, but if Nelson Mandela failed to report, it would be an international story. No one is saying that Paterno is Mandela—but rather, that this puncture to his reputation as the Truly Good Coach, as the saint of coaching, is deeply shocking. Given that this has garnered so much attention, is it possible that this outrage will lead to a culture—of sports, and at large—more alert to this kind of abuse of power?
In trying to understand, I've run across a couple of stories that I found worthwhile. Pam Spaulding has this roundup, which includes some chilling rumors that may or may not pan out on investigation. And Amanda Hess at GOOD takes a look at how Sandusky's behavior compares to what happens to boys in juvenile detention:
In juvenile detention centers across the United States, one in eight detained children experience abuse in any given year—12 percent of all kids in juvenile detention. Eighty percent of them are victimized by a member of the facility's staff. "In detention facilities, there are extreme power differentials between staff and detainees, and very little oversight," Stannow [of Just Detention International] says. "When people have unchecked power, bad things happen. When predators have unchecked power, horrendous things happen."
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