My Take on the Cake Unbaked: Penn State Scandal, Part I

As a sports fan and love of the game, I follow all facets of how sports, our culture, politics, economics, media, & psychology, are inter-connected.

As a professor, clinical social worker, and therapist, my major field of study and practice has been in the area of trauma:  combat-related PTSD,  sexual harassment, bullying, child sexual assault, abuse, neglect, and molestation.

So why was I not surprised at the alleged molestation & perjury charges brought against several “higher-ups”  at one of the most prestigious college campus football programs in Division A?

In the same breadth, why was I not surprised that the Catholic Church was discovered to be moving child predators/priests from parish to parish for over twenty years without any consequences?

And why do I know that there are most likely ten times more young boys than the 8 currently known to have been molested by Sandusky between 1994-2009?

Because it’s been my job. And it’s still my job.  And it will always be my job.

Children have been property and treated as chattel since the English Poor Laws in 1536.  How wonderful that the U.S. simply adopted this mentality in 1776. No matter how many “laws” are written requiring children’s rights, our society continues to “look away” at the one area which remains a taboo subject:  sex.

And when too much envy, money, and prestige have been accorded any institution or  person, including the Vatican, people simply look the other way when it comes to protecting children from powerful adults.

Years ago a married woman with a 7 year old son, whom I will call “Tyler” (to protect his confidentiality) came to see me, in a quandary.  Tyler wanted to play basketball but her husband would not allow it.  He came up with various reasons, e.g., too dangerous, Tyler could get hurt, Tyler’s practices could interfere with school work, etc.  Tyler’s mother wanted me to see her and her husband together, to work out their differences.

Part of my private practice is to see each partner individually before doing couples work, in order to gain an understanding and appreciation of each of their childhood and family backgrounds.  Tyler’s father, Marshall (again, not his true name),  was somewhat reserved, but once I “worked my magic” as he said, “the sea parted.”

His tears did not stop.  “It was my basketball coach, you see.  And I’m not going to let that happen to MY son, ever.”  As his story unfolded, I was honored to hear his narrative.  When he was 11 years old, his coach molested him several times, with the threat of keeping him “on the bench” if he told anyone.

And toward the end of this session, he said to me, “Dr. Gagerman, I just wish there was a sign – a big billboard, maybe on Main St., or maybe near school, or maybe near downtown.”

“What would the billboard say, Marshall?" I asked.

“It would say:  This is what sexual abuse is.  And it is wrong.  And this is who you can trust  to tell about it.  And this is where you can go to, to find that person, to tell about it.  And it’s not your fault.  EVER...it's not your fault. ”

We continued to just look at each other, with tears in both our eyes.  For at least a few minutes.  Then Marshall said to me, “I think I want Tyler to play ball, and now I know what I have to do."  He took a long breath and paused.  “I’m going to offer to help out his coach. I’ll change my work schedule for practices, but it’s still going to be hard.”

“Tell me about more about this Marshall,” I softly said.

“Well, the games are at the high school gym - the same place I had to play…you know, that same place...not just at the gym, but you know, inside of me, it goes to that same place...those memories go right back there, as if it were yesterday. ”

And it’s that same place where the abuse took place:  where Jerry Sandusky, the defensive coordinator; Gary Schultz, VP for business and finance; Tim Curley, Athletic Director;  and Joe Paterno, who morally knew better, all colluded together at keeping this family secret just that:  in-family and in-house.

So if I had a choice on sanctions, besides what the Pennsylvania courts and Attorney General decide, I strongly urge them to abide by Marshall’s advice:  put a sign up everywhere on campus, saying exactly what HE wished someone would have done to protect and help him.

But that’s why this story won’t go away, and why it will take years to adjudicate.  It’s just like the cake that my sister, Marcia, and I would bake every week, as little girls growing up on 89th and Clyde. But we were too anxious to wait till the cake was done,  and so we'd always eat it half-baked.

And that’s what we’ll have here–this cake will remain half-baked, even after penalties and fines will be levied against the accused.  Because more victims and survivors will continue to come forward. Because more allegations will be made, possibly against more university personnel than we know of today.  For years.

And this cake will remain half-baked, because there are many more Marshalls in this world who want a safer place for their sons and daughters to play–but it won’t be with the Nittany Lions.  You can have your cake and eat that one, for sure.

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