Friday, July 27, 2012

What We Can Do in the Wake of the Penn State Tragedy

By Charlie Scaturro

I used to think that regular people couldn’t change the world. I used to think that it’s just too difficult to stand out from the crowd. I figured that the world is such a big place and each individual person is so small that it just wasn’t possible. But after witnessing how the inaction and cowardice of individuals at Penn State enabled a monstrous pedophile to continually victimize young children, I now know that regular people can change the world. If they’re willing to make the necessary sacrifices, and put the well being of others ahead of their own.

For months we’ve heard about the atrocities Jerry Sandusky committed on Penn State’s campus and elsewhere under the umbrella of the institution that was Penn State football. These disturbing details have played themselves out in the media as well as the courtroom, and they left everyone who heard them feeling a multitude of emotions.

Anger, grief, sadness, disbelief, rage, shock, and helplessness were just a handful of the reactions that everyone no doubt felt at some point as the Penn State tragedy went from accusations of child molestation, to fact, to an institutional cover up that spanned decades. People all over the country digested the details of this case in many different ways, and viewed it through many different lenses, but the one constant we all experienced was that there was little we could do to help any of Jerry Sandusky’s victims.

There’s no need to re-hash the details of what Sandusky and others did (or did not do) at Penn State, and there’s no need to debate whether the NCAA sanctions that were recently imposed upon the football program were too harsh, because neither of those dialogues are productive at this point.

Everyone has heard about what happened at Penn State, and whether you agree with it or not, the once storied football program that resides in Happy Valley will be a shell of its former self for many years to come. These are things that none of us, no matter how powerful, can change. And while we might want to forget about the terrible things Jerry Sandusky did to those children, and we might want to forget that there were people at Penn State who knew about such outrages and turned a blind eye, there is value in remembering what happened there as we move forward with our own lives.

If nothing else, the tragedy that occurred at Penn State should serve as a wakeup call to everyone, no matter who you are or what you do, that you can stand up and do something, however insignificant it might seem, to make the world a better place and to keep the moral corruption that doomed Penn State from dooming other parts of our society. The odds are that your chance or decision to be there for someone else or standup for someone else won’t be nearly as high profile and wide reaching as what happened at Penn State, but that doesn’t mean it’s not just as important in its own way.

I’m not talking specifically about child molestation, I’m speaking generally about how detrimental the indifference of good men and women can be. With the gift of hindsight and the ability to discuss what happened at Penn State in a public forum, everyone would say that they would have done everything in their power (and then some, probably) to make sure these appalling crimes stopped and that no more innocent children were victimized.

But, having never been in such a circumstance in private, and in the moment, I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that I would step up and do what Paterno, McQueary, and others failed to do, because I never had the opportunity to do so. I was not standing in their shoes, I had not seen what they saw, and I do not know what it’s like to potentially risk my livelihood to do the right thing. I am in no way defending the decisions that Paterno and others at Penn State made nor am I trying to sympathize their position; I just don’t know what it was like for them to be in that position.

What I do know, however, is that many men in that exact situation failed to take appropriate action to prevent a vicious child rapist from attacking more victims. I hope, against everything I value and hold dear in this life, that I would have summoned the courage to stand up to not only Jerry Sandusky, but also the powers that be at Penn State who desperately wanted to keep these crimes a secret to protect their own legacy and well being.

It’s easy to distance yourself from what happened at Penn State, because such circumstances seem so far away from the mundane events we endure every day, but I don’t care who you are or what you do, you either know people who have experienced some type of tragedy, or have experienced one yourself. It’s impossible to go through life without encountering some type of moral crossroads at some point along the way. Personally, I have friends who have been the victim of rape, and hearing as much was enough to make me physically sick. The same feeling of helplessness and anger that consumed me when I heard of Sandusky’s crimes was all too similar to the helplessness and anger I felt when someone I cared about told me they had been victimized.

As much as we don’t want to believe that such miserable things occur in our society, they happen everyday. And they happen to good people who are left to pick up the pieces as they try to move on with their lives that have no doubt been irreparably damaged. While this realization is heartbreaking enough to make us want to give up, the second we aren’t there to defend these people is the second we have failed society. This is what happened at Penn State and this is why Jerry Sandusky was able to do what he did for over 10 years.

We can’t dwell on what happened at Penn State. We absolutely have to remember the victims and what allowed them to continue to be victimized, there’s no question about that. But, at some point, we’ve got to move forward with the knowledge that we all have the power to make a difference in some way by standing up for what we know to be good. That’s what I’m doing, and I hope you will do the same.

This is how regular people can change the world for the better. This is what each of us can do in the wake of the Penn State tragedy.

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