PSU and Getting in Touch with my own Anger

  I’ve followed the Jerry Sandusky case with a bit of self-protective distance until yesterday.  Revelation after revelation exposed both horrific child abuse and an even worse phenomenon: a Code of Silence that protected a football program while it sacrificed the safety and welfare of young men.  Not only did the football coach I’d so admired uphold the Code: so did the athletic director and the Penn State University president.

For my entire life, my identity has consisted of two major facets: athlete, and intellectual.  I admired Joe Paterno and his football program.  His players seemed to abide by high moral standards, and they graduated.

Like so many heroes of mine, Paterno proved weaker than I expected.  Despite knowing that a boy was raped by Sandusky, a PSU coach, in the locker room showers, Paterno did not report this to the police.  He figured that the Program, with all of its heft and power, could handle it internally.  The Code prevailed.  The Code of Silence.

Three things were sacrificed to this Code: the abused boy; subsequent Sandusky victims; and the psyche of abuse victims throughout the world.

I try to write about this and my brain shuts down right HERE.  Grief takes over.  I’m so confused.

I’m spinning.  Sorry.  Where was I?  Victims and how we feel when the authorities protect abusers.  THAT.  Yes.  My chest grips me and I cannot access words, but I will try.  Those of us who suffered abuse suffered something much worse: silence.  Our own silence, and the silence of people who knew that we were abused.  This hurts worse than the touch of hands that had no right to touch our bodies.

It’s so hard to explain.  I tried to advocate for shutting down the PSU football program last night.  My poster, now taken down, said:

Stop Child Abuse.  Shut down the PSU Football Program.

Sarcastic and offended PSU supporters attacked me, but as a friend noted, the discussion was pretty civilized.  You know why it was civilized?  Because I kept it so.  I swallowed my anger and took care of everyone else.  To the PSU grads who felt attacked, who mourned the potential loss of their beloved white and navy-clad football players, I said I was sorry.

And I was sorry for their pain.  But I wasn’t sorry for advocating the shutting down of a football program.  The student-athletes who get a free ride at PSU can transfer to other universities, and be paid to run up and down a field of green for four years.  They will receive a free education.

I’m not sorry for believing that shutting the program down will help shatter the Code.  Shut it down.  Send a message to future coaches and athletic directors and university presidents: your team is not above the law.  If you protect the abusers, you will suffer consequences.  It’s too bad that the consequences will affect players and fans and alumnae.  But we live in an interconnected world.  We do not own the teams we follow.

Ownership.  Funny, that it comes back to ownership.  The rights of each person begin where the rights of another person end.  Sandusky violated those boundaries when he raped that boy in the showers.  From that crime rained down shards that cut so many others.  And so much of it could have been prevented, if the men who knew of the crime reported it to the authorities.  Those men represent a university, and since they acted on the university’s behalf, the university must bear the responsibility and face the punishment.

Am I disinterested?  No.  This case means a lot to me. The mother I’ve become sees her own boys shivering in the corner of some university’s showers ten years in the future.  My anger and my pain and my grief rage inside me right now, and I am struggling against it, trying not to self-destruct by burning too hot.

This anger and grief is crippling me today.  I feel scared and alone, and yet I know I can’t sit with this too long.  Soon.  Soon I will rise and move and run again.  Soon.  This fire burns too hot inside, but I will rise.  Soon.

36 Comments on “PSU and Getting in Touch with my own Anger

  1. Thank you for writing this. It needs to be said but my Penn State alum friends are so very touchy now. I tried to start a dialogue yesterday but got shot down. It was good to read it in your voice.

  2. You were right then El and you are right now El. The politics of silence within the University systems, just like within the criminal injustice system and our families, have gone on far too long. I am sorry you were hurting. I saw it and tried to step in but I was too late. I wish I would have seen it earlier.

    You should not ever have to silence your feelings or your anger to pacify others. I think we all do it though, I wish I knew how to stop us.

    • Thank you so much Val. And to be honest, I knew it and I know it but I couldn’t stand the stress of the argument. I took it too personal, which I always do for some dadgum reason.

      Yes yes, we silence and pacify and damned if I know how to stop doing that. Part of it is that I don’t want the anger to take away from our message and from our cause. I’m still thinking on it.

      Love you. Thank you for being there for me, dear friend.

  3. Oooh, those Penn State folks drank the Kool-Aid all right. Wow. They aren’t even rational. I agreed with you earlier that the tentacles of this thing go so deep, I really do believe PSU needs to overhaul the entire sports program, and I’m not afraid to say it here. They need to dismantle the football program and rebuild. That said, I don’t give a shit about football. But even my husband — who does — was horrified to hear about the janitors who witnessed the horrors and obviously felt they could say nothing. You must have some pretty powerful people at the top if you feel like reporting child abuse might get you fired.

    • No, I agree that they’re not rational. They argued that it’s wrong to deprive athletes of their education, and had no answer for the whole, well, they can get an education somewhere else.

      And I am going to keep saying it, about PSU, but I won’t say it on my personal wall. I’ll advocate for it in Hell, and they can go to Hell if it bothers them.

      Giggle. And I will fly away like an unhinged Phoenix.

      And I’m like your husband: I love football. But I love children more.

      Love you. Will you please give me pages?

  4. It’s appalling that it went on, and I think many people are still having a hard time accepting this and prefer to block it out.
    Football has always been associated with power and dominance. The number of domestic violence cases reported escalates with the airing of major football games. How must those families felt about the sport? It’s crazy. The players who are illiterate and borderline retarded who are sought by major universities for the ability to play. I’ve never understood why athletes (like OJ) and other power figures in the world of sports and entertainment think they are above the law. This however, the rape of children, is enough to end the game for me.
    You, my dear, are a survivor. Don’t continue to be victimized. A cancer cured is not beaten if you wake in fear every day of a recurrence. Find a way. Buy a million pinatas, fill them all with the evil stories and feelings and either beat them up or burn them in a giant pyre. You only have the rest of this life to experience all the joy that was taken from you.
    And all you students, players and sports fans who feel cheated out of whatever value you perceive that ongoing game held? Bite me. Right on my big fat soccer mom ass.

    • Amen Coffee–amen. And I love the name for your blog!! Welcome to RFHWE!!

      And on a more serious level, for as long as the football program (at any university) is above serious scrutiny and is treated as if it were the greatest thing a university has to offer, the more this sort of thing is going to happen.

      And LOL re your last sentence.

  5. Reblogged this on Stephanie Saye and commented:
    Today I am sharing a post from E.L. Farris, who is a abuse survivor, lawyer, author, runner and mom. El has read LITTLE 15 and can relate to the sexual abuse that goes on in the story. Hers is a perspective we all need to hear; especially coming off the horrific revelations in the Sandusky/Penn State child abuse case. We need survivors like El to remind us why we must be vigilant advocates for our children and watchful administrators of our schools, churches and youth and community sports programs.

  6. Dear El,

    Keep talking, keep writing. You are helping to change things. As Cormac McCarthy wrote in The Road, ‘You carry the light.’

    Mahalo and Aloha,


  7. El, shortly after the Sandusky accusations were made public, I wrote a blog post over on BlogHer about the tendency of adults to overlook abuse by authority figures such as coaches and teachers as something the victim “asked for” from his or her behavior. My impetus for writing this post was a situation that happened in our town where a head football coach was fired based on accusations (and proof) of inappropriate behavior. My anger in these situations is not aimed just toward the abuser, but also at those who choose to continue to defend him or her. While Sandusky’s crimes are an extreme example, this type of abuse between figures of authority and students/children takes place so often in our communities and yet we still stand back, scratch our heads, and wonder, “Why didn’t anyone say anything?” The abuse never gets reported because of fear: fear of ridicule, fear of backlash, fear of losing one’s job, fear of losing one’s position on the team, etc. As you might expect, that blog post was wildly popular, but it was the disturbing feedback from some members of my community sent me (“the coach was wrongly accused”, “don’t you know what the student’s reputation is?” “That student is very troubled and is looking for attention” and so on) that made me realize I did the right thing by writing the piece. Sadly, some people have a difficult time realizing that their beloved coach, teacher,spiritual leader, etc., was not “provoked” to commit abuse: he or she is an abuser, period. However, if we keep speaking up and defending the children – the victims – and explain our positions, maybe, just maybe, others will eventually hear us and will be brave enough to stand up for the children without fear of negative ramifications. Keep talking – many of us are listening!

    • Dawn:

      Do you have the link for that blog? I’d love to read it.

      Aye, my anger encompasses those who uphold the Code of Silence, for sure.

      I’m glad the blog was wildly popular, but it also dismays me that both you and I received that sort of feedback (I got attacked on Facebook, and a lot of the feedback was pretty ridiculous).

      Aye, we will keep speaking up, yes? Thank you for talking–and listening.



      • El, here is the link: While many people sent me (and the mother of the victim) messages of support, one woman (who has 4 daughters) sent me quite an interesting text message defending the coach who was fired. What troubled me (besides the obvious inappropriate behavior and the slow response by the administration) was the fact that the victim was not believed – even though she had several text messages to prove the situation (hundreds overall, but the family had to wait on the phone records for those) – and she felt compelled to publicly display them on Facebook (she did this out of desperation and frustration). Even one of my friends told me, “yes, but do you know her reputation?” To which I responded, “I don’t effing care what her reputation is. He is an adult. Period.” The same woman who sent me a nasty text has a daughter who threatened and harassed the victim, while the family received threatening anonymous phone calls. It still angers me greatly that my church community responded this way, and it has created a riff between me and some of them, but I don’t care. I kept my mouth shut once a long time ago, and vowed I would never do it again. Plus, my daughters saw that they can trust me and I am not afraid to stand up for them if they should ever find themselves in a situation like this. The victim’s mother told me she is sorry she didn’t listen to her daughter when she first approached her earlier in the year, but is so glad she finally did. It proved to her daughter (and her younger children) that she will always advocate for them, no matter what. I think we can all learn something from this: we must empower our children to stand up and tell someone when they are in an abusive situation and the only way we can do this is if we prove to them that we will listen and defend them.
        Also, hopefully when make our voices be heard about our outrage toward the silence we will force the code to be broken. I don’t know, but I for one am no longer going to stay quiet or “on the fence” about this.

  8. El, similar to what other commenters have said, I’m so glad you have the courage to speak out. I also loved your response to Renee – you love football, but you love kids more.

    I couldn’t agree more with what you said about self-righteous anger, too. I hope you’re feeling better today, though certainly this topic is one that warrants outrage!

  9. Beautiful, heart-wrenching post, El. I relate to your grief and confusion in response to the Sandusky news. One of my close loved was abused, and I can only imagine what she feels each time the story hits the TV waves. You’re not alone, friend! Thanks for showing us continually that we aren’t, either. *hugs*

  10. El I hear you and I agree with you. Penn State should be shut down. To ensure that all layers of management involved in this travesty are removed. They need to be held accountable for their pervasive culture and their code of silence. There needs to be a powerful response that THIS IS NOT OKAY. That what those boys suffered is bigger than a sports team and more important than school pride. It trumps all of those things in my mind.

  11. It’s refreshing to see someone taking a stand, even when it’s not popular with some people you know. Never easy to go public with something that moves you to anger or any other emotion. I admire you a lot, El.

    • Thank you so much Nina–that means a bunch, especially coming from you. Often I regret when I go public with my anger or my emotion but it this case, it’s for the kids, and as a mother, well, it gets a bit easier to advocate on their behalf.

  12. Don’t believe everything you see on TV or read in the papers. You only hear and see what they want you to. The powers that be that control PSU, to protect themselves blamed everything on “The Code” and Joe Paterno. They figure he is dead, let’s put all the blame on him.

    I say disband the council and board of trustees that run PSU and the State of PA too for they are one and the same. Maybe hold them accountable because they truly run everything at PSU and if anyone covered things up, it was the Board of Trustees. Shut down the entire University if you must.

    Sandusky is in prison. Joe Paterno is dead. There is nothing more they can do to them now. I am sure someone will make a movie from all this and profit from the evil and stir up the pot once again.

    The criminal masterminds go untouched and feign ignorance.

  13. Hi El,
    One of the things you wrote here really struck me. You write, “Those of us who suffered abuse suffered something much worse: silence.” Wow! I guess one of the things I still needed to do was forgive MYSELF for my OWN silence. So, tonight, I did! Thank you for writing from a place in your heart that is so real. You are helping people like me. ♥
    God bless you,

  14. Hi again! Just to clarify what my previous post said…I am a survivor of a serial rapist/killer. When he raped me I was age 14, and I was SO terrified, that I never told a single soul. This man, along with one of his male cousins, went on hunting sprees in my hometown, and eventually, would go on to rape other girls, and kill at least 6 of them. He was not caught until I was in my late 20’s. I told my mom about what happened to me, then. Yet, it was something I continued to keep buried, until, at the age of 52 I sought christian counseling. Much healing took place through what Jesus did in my counseling. After that, I took my story to the local newspaper. I was not going to be silent anymore. Still…I never thought, until reading what you wrote here, that I was still disappointed at my silence…that I wasn’t brave enough to stop him, before he killed people. Tonight, you helped me to understand more completely that this wasn’t MY fault. I was silent then because that’s the way things were done, and you did not talk about it! Period. So, for all those years, I tried to block it out. That is SO the wrong thing to do. Silence is sickness, I once heard, and openess is health. Let the healing continue. Thanks again, El. ♥, P.j.

    • My goodness, my friend. You’ve been carrying something huge on your shoulders all of these years. I do so hope that you feel lighter and can set the last remnants of this burden down now.

      It is most certainly NOT your fault. That truth was brought home to me (again) when I read about the 17-year old who tweeted the names of the young men who sexually abused her and she got hit with contempt of court for violating their plea agreement. She might get more jail time than they got!

      The legal system still does not protect victims. I can only imagine how pathetic it was 30 years ago!!

      Let the healing continue. Amen. And I am praying that I feel less anger. I really am . . . xoxo