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.