American Horror. Happy Valley, November 2011.

David Swanson, Philly.com.

I believe in the youth of America.  I believe in Occupy; I believe we’re in a tough, tough spot.

But what I watched unfold last night in State College, PA, “Happy Valley,” crippled my faith.

—-

The revelations and developments, the tornado of reportage, that exploded from Penn State University this week, transcend what most would label, by instinct, a sports story.  It is human news, and it is human horror.  The details need not be rewritten here.  They are everywhere.  They are the stuff of nightmares.  As all nightmares must, this one culminated last night in one more tragedy.  A campus full of rioting students, minds wired backward, upending civility in defense of an enabler of child molestation.  Decades, decades, of brutal, methodical child molestation.  A news van was tipped over.  How appropriate, as so many now already blame “the media” for what has happened.  The horror, the horror.  Joe Paterno is not the villain here; he is the villain’s sidekick.  But he is not a hero.  He is not a man.  “I wish I’d done more,” he said yesterday, announcing with unceasing ego his retirement at the conclusion of this season.  He wishes now, no doubt.  He’s out of a job.  As well he should be.

I wonder what it’s like on campus today.  Is anybody in class?  I wouldn’t be.  I’d be sick in my room.  I’d be considering a transfer.  I’d be bottomless with depression that my peers en masse fulfilled every ugly stereotype of selfish, clueless youth that is leveled so often at our generation, so often unfairly.  They proved the point, those lunatics filling the streets last night, they proved the point that we don’t know anything about anything.  That we don’t value human life, human fragility.  That we have no idea what it’s like, what emotions and responsibilities await us, “in the real world.”  Of course, plenty of us know what it’s like.  It’s fucking hard.  But we don’t get the spotlight because we don’t need tear gas sprayed in our faces because we don’t want to “lose” a football coach.  We don’t get the spotlight because we’re fighting for work, fighting for love, fighting for a seat in the game of economical musical chairs that constitutes our current occupational milieu.  We don’t get the spotlight; we get ignored.  We get denigrated.  Even as we’re trying so God damn hard to do the right thing.

What happened last night in Pennsylvania was so far from, was the opposite of, “the right thing.”  You got it wrong, “Staters.”  You don’t know what you’re doing.  You don’t know what you’re screaming about.  You don’t know anything.  You let the rest of us down, hard.

One day, many of you will bear children.  (If you can afford it.)  Maybe then you’ll understand.  Maybe not.  Maybe sports will trump your appreciation for life, your love of it, this tentative gift that can be snatched away at any time.  Not just by death, mind you.  There are fates worse than death.  There are traumas insurmountable by even the strongest of minds and hearts.  There are evils that linger for life.  The victims of this case, the actual victims, those poor, poor boys, will never get over it.  Will never not in some darkest corner of their mind be forever what they were.  Prey.

“You can hear it in their voices,” has said Dan Patrick, multiple times this week, as a remarkable set of episodes of his radio show has unfolded.  Callers, victims, real victims of this very kind of horror, have been phoning into and bearing their stories and pain on his show.  It has been soul-stirring.  They feel enabled to share their unthinkable pain.  On a national radio show.  They know what this is truly about, and they want those who don’t get it to get it.  Of course, the obstinate remain.  Other callers, blaming that insidious “media,” lamenting that “JoePa” has been made a lightning rod, or a pariah, or something.  No.  Listen, obstinates.  Listen to the stories.  Think of your youth.  Think of youths you know, including, if you have them, your own children.  Think hard.  Wonder why an eighty-four-year-old manager of athletes matters more.  Wonder why you spring to his defense, and not that of the victims.  Wonder why your priorities are these.  Wonder why you are this way.  Think hard, and wonder long.

It won’t matter, of course, it won’t work.  People are arrogant, people are egomaniacs, people don’t want to consider the absolute sewer of humanity, because it infringes upon their so-called happiness.  Their warped interpretation of a complicated world.  Their love of a fucking football team.  Their resolution that they are right, and everyone else who disagrees is wrong.  Youth to adult, this attitude persists.  Within some people, too many, you will never find reason.  When that lack of reason comes together and explodes, you get last night.  You get a tragic ellipsis on the end of what scarcely can be contained in the word “tragedy.”  The effects of the actions and inactions of these men will last forever.  Jerry Sandusky will go to jail.  Probably, nobody else will, at least not for any considerable stretch of time.  They are old men, geriatrics with wealth.  Paterno’s “wish” will open him up to a litany of civil litigation.  Money.  But that’s it.  He’s very old, and he will shuffle loose this coil sooner than later.  His estate will pay for comfort money cannot, and will not provide.  He’ll never have to know what he did, by not doing.  He’ll never have to leave his bubble.  He’ll never have to contemplate the cages into which he allowed so many young men–how many?  We will never know–to be imprisoned.  For the rest of their lives.  All you had to do was make a phone call, Joe.  All you had to do was dial 9-1-1.  You didn’t.  You deserve everything you get.  And so much more you won’t ever receive.

—-

Today, no doubt, those rioters consider themselves empowered.  “Oh, they gassed us, man, they used pepper spray!”  Their dastardly misinterpretation of their idols’ crimes and their own will continue.  Those of us trying hard to make this world a better place will remain dismayed.  Sick to our stomachs.  Shaking our heads.  Because, unlike you, you selfish, foolish bastards, we know the real victims here.  They’re not you, nor any of us.  They’re certainly not Joe Paterno.  So please, pretty please, do us all a favor.

Grow up.

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5 thoughts on “American Horror. Happy Valley, November 2011.

  1. Tyler, Given the benefit of having watched a couple of idiotic displays unfold like the one in State College last night, I feel like I might be able to blunt your anger at these people slightly. First, the people who made this mistake aren’t adults. We as a generation live under the persistent delusion that in the modern age college-aged children are actually adults by simple virtue of the fact that they have physically and legally matured. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who has spent time on a college campus is very aware that 95% of the people that you interact with are oversized checking-account-wielding children. So let’s carry that understanding into the discussion that we have. Most importantly, these children are trying to deal with something that rarely, if ever, comes up in the normal course of human experience. Almost none of us have ever had to deal with the conflicting emotions plaguing these people. Millen was on the radio yesterday, a giant in the history of college football, being broken live by the weight of this thing. There is no way to analogize it, at all. There is no other scenario which can mirror the sense of conflicted loyalty and anger at betrayal ripping not just through State College, but through the entire college football family. I do believe that Joe Paterno failed, about as miserably and completely as a human being can fail in life. The question is whether that wipes out 60+ years of turning boys into men? I don’t have the right to answer that. No one can except Joe Paterno. However long he has left, he is the only one who can answer the unanswered questions and impotent rage given terrible, misguided voice on the streets of State College last night. Is there any way to make up for it? No. Just ask Theo Fleury. Lives have been utterly destroyed by this already, and there can be no forgiveness for that, but let’s all not waste time figuring out who needs to bear the weight of this and instead turn our efforts toward offering assistance and counseling to the victims. Let us let go of the anger that we feel toward individuals who will, I assure you, be required to face the music in a court of law; and instead redirect this grief stricken energy into trying to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. One of the things that I am very proud of, when it comes to the generation which I have grown up in, is that we embrace causes whole-heartedly. So when the grieving is done, and this anger is a part of that grieving, let us all embrace the cause of ensuring that this never, ever happens again. There is little chance that every tragedy can be prevented, but every one is a victory for society. That’s all I’ve got. This is probably one of the most important moments in sports that has occurred in the last 30 years, if ever. Let’s not allow the legacy of these events to be petty resentment and some unrealistic closure through revenge. Instead, for once, let tragedy and inhuman horror vault us into a better and safer future. I’m just saying.

  2. I’m with you, though I think we’re on the same page. That’s why I was pissed, and remain so. In the end, this isn’t about football. It isn’t about how we feel. It isn’t about us. It’s about them, who’ll bear this burden forever.

    Also, you may be right. This could be the biggest turning point in the history of sports.

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