I’ve been watching the news about the Penn State debacle closely. For years, as a therapist, I’ve worked with adult victims of childhood sexual abuse. I’ve sat with them, men and women, as they have grappled with why this happened to them. In some cases, the abuse devastated their lives. Others were/are more resilient and have found a way to prevent the abuse from defining them.
I’m so profoundly saddened about one thing in particular: One boy could have been saved. The act was witnessed and allowed to continue, and I can’t understand it. Admittedly, I was never a high school or college athlete, so perhaps I simply cannot grasp how anything can rise above the duty to protect a child from a life-defining trauma, but should anyone be able to understand this? I asked my friend Carol Frazey, a former Penn State athlete, herself, what she was feeling in the wake of the scandal coming to light. Here’s how she’s attempting to making sense of it all:
“The past 2 weeks have been emotional, sad, and disturbing for me. As a former Penn State cross country and track runner, I feel a family connection to the university and the athletic department. Penn State is the place where I grew up and was guided by a fun, loving, and knowledgeable coach and teammates.
“As for the sexual abuse scandal, I think it’s good to know that it’s possible to spend our life building up our reputation and helping others reach their full potential. But, if even once, we don’t protect the weak, the vulnerable, and the young when we have the opportunity or obligation to do so, this one misguided step will be our legacy. I think something good has to come of this somehow. Maybe more people will do more to stop abuse. Maybe people will be more willing to stop inappropriate things they see. Maybe more children will find their voice and speak up if someone is abusing them. All I can do is hope that these victims can heal and that the world will be a better place because they have shared their story.”
I also received an email from Marilyn, a reader of my book and a runner getting ready for a marathon in 2012. She told me I could share her grief with others:
“I’m sure you heard, my Alma mater, Penn State, is grappling with some serious tragedies. Other than the alleged pedophile, I know all of the people involved, and I’ve had a really tough time processing the whole thing. I spent a lot of time last week licking my wounds. Tuesday evening I went out for a run at five o’clock. I ran as fast as I could so the only thing I could really feel was the pain of exertion. When I slowed down, I would start to tear up. There was comfort in being out there with other runners, who were just doing their thing. Seeing people engage in something as simple as running somehow proved the world wasn’t coming to an imminent end. I just couldn’t get myself to move the rest of the week.”
If someone, like Marilyn, is paralyzed and overwhelmed with what has happened, imagine the damage to the victims. As a woman who has found my soul and renewed my life through an athletic activity I came to later in life, I’m grieved at the thought of the victims in this situation shying away from their sport because someone bigger and more powerful than they decided to gratify his own fleshly greed with their innocence. Like Carol and Marilyn, I hope they heal. I also hope that Penn State Alumni will hold onto their good memories and remember that there are more good people in the world than bad, even when it seems they’re hard to find.