The vision of the Sandusky horror is almost too much to fathom — a sexual predator allowed access to a hallowed sports facility because the men in power just couldn’t and wouldn’t systematically investigate one of their own. Disgrace to Joe Paterno, football sanctions, a mass exodus of players to other teams, and a university disrespected and threatened with a loss of accreditation, was accepted as the righteous result of their transgression.
Enter the beleaguered team and Bill O’Brien, the new coach, to start the season. The resounding “We Are Penn State” was down to a muffled embarrassed whimper. Then the team lost its first two games and it appeared that the humiliation and devalued attitude was here to stay.
Week three, and the team dumps gallons of Gatorade on O’Brien’s head after their first win. Weeks four and five and six, they win again and again and AGAIN. Is the Phoenix finally dragging itself out of the ashes of shower rooms and sexual perversity?
It’s fun and wonderful to win, but in this case, it’s not just winning a football game, it’s winning the battle against an infectious stigma that made a great majority of Penn Staters feel humiliated and devalued by what their elders did over a decade ago. I wonder how many PSU Ts and sweatshirts stayed hidden in closets?
Is this any different than what so many of us experienced at the hands of our own parents? Insensitivity, violence, sexual abuse and flat-out stupidity can obviously influence an entire life. The results of poor parenting — depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, are rampant in psychiatric offices. Helping a patient unravel how the past has unduly influenced his view of himself is often very helpful.
Like the changes happening at Penn State, we can also change. We don’t have to continue to feel trapped or controlled or humiliated by what our parents did or didn’t do. It’s wonderful to have a new hero like Bill O’Brien, but let’s keep in mind what happened with our old hero, Joe Paterno. He was simply a human being with his own set of limitations.
We need to embrace the hero inside each of us, the part that doesn’t follow the herd and does the right thing, whatever it takes.
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