I’m angry at the man who did it, and the men who knew about it and didn’t make it stop.
I think that anger is completely justified. I also think that it’s easy for us to say what we would have done, if we’d been in those circumstances. Now, hear me out – I’m not about to excuse anyone’s actions. No way. But I do understand the pressure to keep quiet about something bad, in order to protect others. I also understand that when faced with a trauma, people make mistakes. They make small mistake and they make huge mistakes. People make decisions and get embroiled in things that they wish they could get out of. That they regret and feel indescribable guilt over for the rest of their lives. And they can’t take it back. They’d give their lives to take it back, but they can’t.
Making mistakes when lives are on the line is something many people do. It is a normal thing. It is a human thing. Being scared shitless when faced with a huge, life-changing decision, and being frozen, that is also a normal, human thing.
Because of this, I can understand what all went down with Penn State and it’s horror show.
The thing is, all that is still not good enough. “I was terrified and I had enormous pressure on me to not bring scandal to the lives of many” is JUST NOT ENOUGH when we’re talking about lives, about children, about rape.
I suppose what I want to say is – you and I, the ones who are outraged and sickened and who have sobbed over what has happened to those children – we are human and capable of making those same huge mistakes as the Penn State guys did. Yes, we are. You may want to think you’re not capable of it, but we are all human and we all have the capability of FUBAR – fucking up beyond all repair.
Stuff typically tends to go FUBAR in the heat of the moment. You take that grad assistant coach and sit him down in a comfortable chair and read him a story about a kid getting raped. You tell him “What would you do if you walked in on it?” Bet you anything he says he’d walk right over and stop that shit. He’d rescue that child. Then he’d take the kid to the hospital or the police station or at the very least home to his parents. But he would stop it from going any further.
In the moment, that is not what happened, is it? And we say, “How could anyone, especially a 28 year old person in grad school, just walk away from that child?” I don’t know how he did it. I don’t think I could, but you know what? It didn’t happen to me.
NOW is the time we have to say to ourselves – NOW, when we are in our comfortable chairs and we’re reading the story in front of us - "When the traumatic thing happens in front of my eyes, I will not back away from it. When I come upon a situation where someone is being harmed, I will step in and do something. When I’m faced with telling the truth and possibly bringing a big mess down on my head for being honest . . . possibly destroying careers, organizations, reputations – I will do the right thing. I will do the very, very hard thing. I will do the courageous thing." We have to say this to ourselves now so that it won't be so hard to do, then.
I would like to think I am a better person than the Penn State people who turned the other way when they knew children were being raped. I would like to think that incredible success and wealth and pressure would not keep me from doing something so horrible. But I am human. I am capable of being just as evil as the next guy, if I let myself be. I don’t want to be that way. I’m guessing you don’t want to either. So today, we have to tell ourselves that when it’s in our face, we will do something about it. We have to build resolve, NOW. Because when the situation IS in our face and we have to make the right decision, our fear can ruin everything.