The scourge of silent wingmen

After I wrote the post below, this excellent commentary by award-winning sportswriter Rick Reilly was published. He says it all.



The trial of Jerry Sandusky is in the works–he’s the former Penn State football coach charged with more than 50 counts of abusing boys and young men over a decade.

The testimony is graphic.  (I’m not linking to it. It is not hard to find.) And, now a 30-something man who was adopted and grew up in the Sandusky home has come forward to allege abuse. This is going to get worse.

Sandusky is innocent until proven otherwise, and I firmly believe that witch hunts do happen. But it is an impossible stretch to believe there is no truth to the charges. Before one word of testimony, and on his very best day, Sandusky was a man with boundaries made of air who made it his life’s mission to be around vulnerable kids.

People working with kids who are molested know all about the societal structures and pressures that protect serial abusers. But as one more helpless observer, not a professional, I continue to be shocked.

I do know that priests, coaches and the like have been able to get away with this stuff because of the respect and love (and sometimes fear) they are afforded by kids and parents. Way back in the 1960s, before “inappropriate touching” was a term known to first graders, I had a mother who was crystal clear when explaining to me what adults were not supposed to do to kids. Even she let me go to church and synagogue events unsupervised. Later, living at boarding school, I would have walked off a cliff (or worse) for a beloved teacher or coach. But I was one of the lucky ones; my authority figures were the good guys.

But what is more striking to me now as I read the Sandusky coverage is the elaborate protection systems that grow up around serial abusers. Some powerful factions in the Roman Catholic Church got so good at circling the wagons that the collateral damage will never be sorted out. Sandusky’s world is quite skilled at playing hide-the-villain too. I find myself being ever more appalled by those who stood by, burying their suspicions or even actual knowledge.

I don’t know what combination of genes, environment and inexplicable evil it takes to create a sexual predator within an institution meant to teach and protect young people. I do know that it takes some gutless wingmen to allow it to keep happening.



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