It’s not about you. It’s about them.

If you were on any social media site last night, you saw that stream blow up when it was announced that Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno, and Penn State president, Graham Spanier, were fired, after it came to light that many in administrative and power positions at Penn State did nothing to stop Jerry Sandusky from continuing his abuse of small boys.

A friend of mine, a new mother, emailed me yesterday, asking, “How do you not just fall down, paralyzed in fear for your girls when you hear news stories like what is coming out from Penn State?” Like me, many parents went home over the past few days and hugged their kids a little harder, and told them we love them a few more times than usual.

Because this story is not about a football legacy. It’s not about a scandal or a cover up. It’s not about misguided Penn State students who are overly proud of their school. It’s not about idiot celebrities.  It’s about eight boys, and possibly many more, who were hurt and petrified and stolen of their childhoods, and adults who did nothing to stop it. Adults, who should have protected those children and stopped it from happening again, did nothing.

I don’t know any of the victims names, and I truly hope they don’t come out. They do not need to be assaulted again by the media. But we have conveniently forgotten about them in most of the stories. So, let me help you think of them as the people who were victimized, the children who were victimized. Like I said, I don’t know their names, but imagine with me for a minute.

Michael didn’t do anything wrong. Marcus didn’t do anything wrong. Jeff didn’t do anything wrong. Zachary didn’t do anything wrong. Jacob didn’t do anything wrong. Ryan didn’t do anything wrong. Tony didn’t do anything wrong.

Eight boys, most likely wide-eyed with excitement about being mentored by a Penn State coach, were victimized.

And here is what I do know:

Sandusky did something wrong. McQueary did something wrong. Curley did something wrong. Schultz did something wrong. Spanier did something wrong. And Paterno did something wrong.

My heart goes out to the campus who is trying to rise above this, to the parents trying to help their children heal, and to those boys, who expected more from adults who should have protected them and who deserved to be treated like the amazing people I hope they become.

17 thoughts on “It’s not about you. It’s about them.

  1. Exactly. Thank you Niki – that was so well said!

    I have seen so many people posting how “sick” it makes them that people are trying to tarnish the reputation of a sports hero. I only wish when these types of tragedies occur that mass indignation agains the perpetrators of such crimes and those who failed to act would be the typical response. If as a community/society, our response was in horror over the crime and not defense of our idols, maybe this type of crime wouldn’t be so prevalent.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Niki. I am from Pennsylvania and I have several friends who have ties to PSU, many of whom are educators.It is so disheartening to watch them defend these men, stating that they “followed the proper protocol.” Well I can’t accept that. When I have children, and I put my trust in other adults to care for them, I would hope that they would do the right thing– not just the “required thing.”

  3. Thanks Niki for posting this. I read an article this morning quoting the sister of one of the victims (who currently attends Penn State). She talked about how difficult it is to attend every single class where people are joking about the incidents and rallying around Paterno…and where NOBODY is talking about the 8 (and let’s face it, there were probably more than 8) boys who had their innocence taken from them by an adult who was supposed to care about them and protect them. A

  4. I hope the discussions happening today in the classrooms at Penn State (and at other colleges and universities across the country) are about ethics, character, and priorities.

    Would forfeiting the next game and holding a vigil for victims instead help students to understand?

    • I try so hard to focus on the students who want to help, who want to hold their institution to a higher standard, but it is so lost in the support of those who should have done more to help. Definitely will be a conversation starter in many higher education classes.

  5. I love sports radio but haven’t been able to listen all week really. I just can’t handle the callers crying about over-reactions and “innocent until proven guilty.” That just doesn’t work in the world of sexual violence. And for once it seems that the intersection of sports and sexual violence seems to be siding with those young boys who will have to survive this. We need to hear your statement that it’s about them, and believe every word. Let the courts figure the rest of this out, but when it comes to healing, it really isn’t about anyone else but them.

  6. Pingback: It’s “We Are”, not “He Is” « Welcome to

  7. Good post Niki. I think there’s several entities involved in this story and they all have different responsibilities and take-a-ways.

    1. The victims: perhaps this will help bring closure to a horrible and tragic episode in their lives.
    2. The media: pretty much what Niki said. And don’t try and drudge up the victims names, give them the peace the deserve.
    3. Penn State Board of Trustees: You did the right thing in not letting Paterno represent the school and ousting the president as well. Cooperate fully with the Dept of Education investigation and take responsibility for any others culpable in the incidents.
    4. Penn State students: don’t riot b/c someone didn’t turn a child molester into the police. That shows an incredible lack of critical thinking skills and judgment. Your athletic program should not be so conflated with your educational institution that they’re viewed as one and the same.
    5. Paterno: you’ll have to live with your mistake. And don’t write any books.
    6. Everyone else: use this as a teachable moment about keeping your kids aware and communicative, taking responsibility for your actions, and not letting trivial accomplishments blind you to a person’s faults.

  8. I love my alma mater (Northwestern) and our football coach (Fitzgerald), and I hope he is there a very long time. But if anything like that should happen at NU I would hope that our coach would be let go immediately along with anyone else with ANY knowledge of what happened. There shouldn’t be any debate amongst the Board of Trustees, no “special committee” convened to investigate the charges, no question of who or who would not be on the sidelines for the next Saturday’s game, and our students would hold a quiet vigil for the victims rather than turning over cars in the streets. That is how I hope we would deal with such a situation. Though, I would have thought JoePa would have been one of the last people to shirk responsibility in the way he did.

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