I get that athletics at any level takes a lot of commitment, dedication, and focus. And the higher you go in terms of talent and performance, the sharper that focus. Of course, that tight aperture can create a narrow or warped perspective. You can miss things … or let some things loom too large, and others too small.
The same is true of any field of endeavor; but athletics is particularly familiar to me because my parents were dedicated athletes, passionate fans — and because my mom was a coach. She inspired such affection and respect in “her” athletes, they would have done anything for her.
I hope they didn’t.
Will organized athletics now take seriously what the church has been learning for too long? The only way to ensure the safety of an organization’s most vulnerable participants is to enact and enforce safeguards: current background checks on everyone who works with kids and youth, and orientation to and use of safe procedures, including having at least two unrelated adults supervising children and youth activities.
Of course, even these safeguards can fail, if you put pastors — or coaches, or programs — on too high a pedestal. Pedestals are a problem. You can’t really know what’s going on up there; and someone up there won’t really know what’s going on down here.
Maybe that’s part of why my mom never noticed the abuse going on right under her nose.
Yep. I’m one of those 30% (or more) of girls sexually abused as children. And it’s not just girls; estimates are that at least 15% (or more) of boys are sexually abused as children, as we have now been graphically reminded.
Even when the abuse is stopped, damage has been done. And even with good post-abuse care, therapy, and loving relationships, there are lingering effects.
I can’t read stories like the ones circulating now about Sandusky — and all the boys he abused, and all the men who protected him in order to protect their Program and the millions of dollars it produces — without feeling sick at my stomach, and feeling my heart begin to race. Multiply my feelings by millions of kids.
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There are three side notes I want to mention.
One, some might argue it looks like the Penn State coaches and administrators are being railroaded before due process takes place. I suppose that’s something to be concerned about. But from where I sit, it looks more like law enforcement did a difficult job with very little help from Penn State coaches and administrators, and the investigation therefore took longer and had to be more carefully constructed over years of time. Which allowed more kids to be abused. I’m glad that now — for once — it looks like Penn State is putting its ethical foot down. Would that they had done so years ago.
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Two, just because Sandusky was sexually interested in boys does not make him a homosexual. It makes him a pedophile. There’s a difference.
Gay people are attracted to adults of their own gender, and in those attractions can have all the same blessings and problems straight people have: fidelity and infidelity, strong unions and broken hearts, children and infertility, etc. The most important thing gay people and straight people have in common is the possibility of mutual relationships founded on shared respect and love.
Pedophiles are adults who are attracted to children in a way that is not and cannot be healthy, and that does harm to children. There can not be a mutual relationship between an adult and a child that involves sexual contact of any kind, because the power differential between adult and child is always and already there, to the adult’s advantage. Pedophiles have no more in common with gay people than they do with straight people.
The only healthy relationships between adults and children are ones where the adults are safeguarding the vulnerability of the children. This is something almost everyone involved at Penn State apparently lost sight of — not just the pedophile among them.
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Three, let’s not lose sight of the rest of the children at risk around us. I am remembering the words of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Ella’s Song: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest … until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons is as important as the killing of white men, white mother’s sons.” What hurts any mother’s son hurts me. Let me not lose sight of that.
In the larger picture of life in these United States, where more than 16 million children are living in poverty with all its attendant harm, we are ALL to blame.
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I remember a time when I read Matthew 18:6, and felt it as a great comfort, that even if the adults around me had completely dropped the ball in allowing years of abuse in my life, that God had seen, and God knew, and God was pissed. As Jesus put it,
If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Sandusky and Co. may think they are in hell now. But then again, maybe this is just the wake-up call that they need, one they finally have to answer. It may be the hardest good news they ever got … but it’s better this than God’s millstone. And while we contemplate that picture, let’s not lose sight of our own: what are we doing about the kids who are hungry tonight?
In closing, sports fans, and people of faith, let’s review:
There is no institution — not any church, not any sport, not any school, and not any nation — with any value or importance above the well-being of a child. When we lose sight of that, we have lost sight of our own humanity, and what safeguards it. May God help us to do better than we have done.