Early Wednesday morning, I made my weekly commute from my home office in upstate New York to the Love146 office in New Haven. I sipped coffee and flipped the radio over to ESPN. The news and talk were all about the scandal in the football program at Penn State where allegations of child abuse and a cover up have rocked the school. Like many, I have been following the story since it broke last weekend. The focus has shifted from the long time assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky charged with the abuse, to his friend and boss, Coach Paterno. What did “Joe Pa” know and when? Had Coach Paterno gone far enough fulfilling not only his professional and legal obligations but also his moral obligation?
Yesterday on the radio, the conversation turned to current Penn State Assistant Coach, Mike McQueary. According to grand jury testimony, in 2002, as a 28-year-old graduate assistant in the football program, McQueary witnessed Sandusky rape a 10-year-old boy in the Penn State showers. According to his own testimony, McQueary’s response was to go to his office and call his father and then leave. Later together, McQuery and his father went to Paterno and reported the incident to him, but now the fury of all sports talk radio was unleashed on McQueary.
Radio host and former pro Mike Golic, railed away, and message after message poured into the radio show from men all over the country … famous players, Penn State Alums, pundits and “average Joes” all expressing outrage over McQueary’s response. How could a 28-year-old man witness the rape of a child and not intervene? What had gone wrong as he processed what he saw and decided the best course of action was to have a chat with dad? The voices were unanimous …McQueary acted the coward and failed. Real men protect children. Matt Millen, ESPN Commentator and Penn State star friendly with all of the men involved, broke down and wept on the radio. He said this …
“… This is more than a football legacy. This is about people and if we can’t protect our kids, we as a society are pathetic.”
“Right on” I thought. “Amen brother!” But then I found myself starting to feel frustrated, even angry. You see I hear this sort of thing all the time. As Faith Community Coordinator at Love146, I travel around and visit the churches that support our work and watch and listen to men, husbands, fathers respond to Love146. This is exactly the sort of thing men say: that the failure to protect women and children is inexcusable. But often later, when we sit down with our Task Force groups, volunteers who have joined us on the front lines of the fight against the exploitation of children, most of the angry men are absent. It seems that often men filled with righteous indignation and courage at the Love146 table in a church lobby or on a talk radio show, become a radical minority when it comes to the actual work of justice. A quick survey of Love146 Task Forces suggests that women out number men 5-1!
Now, as I angrily bang away at my keyboard, the faces of many of the fine men who do follow through and who do show up and who do act, come to mind. But honestly for every one of those, there must be ten more outraged, who shook their heads in disgust, fathers with tears in their eyes, who then walked out and never took a next step. Who never signed up for the Task Force or showed up at the meeting. Who never sat down and wrote or called their congressperson seeking to establish or strengthen laws that protect women and children. Who didn’t say anything to the fellas heading to the strip bar after work. Who didn’t step in when they saw another man hurt someone weaker.
Maybe some men come to the conclusion they don’t have the time for justice work. Maybe some carry shame and guilt for their own sexual history or struggle with their own participation in a culture that normalizes the sexual objectification of people. For sure, some are frustrated when they find that “kicking butts and taking names” is not what Love146 calls a “thoughtful response.” It always seems easier to throw a punch physically or verbally than to be both strong and gentle and wise … to be an Atticus instead of Rambo.
Men: the abolition movement needs you. As a father, a pastor, a man, as human, I’m pleading with you to acknowledge and grieve how men have failed- and then move! Get engaged! Talk to your friends. Teach your children. Never be a bystander. Our society can protect our kids-- but it’s going to take all of us and its not going to be done watching football or calling in to radio talk shows.
Love146, Faith Community Coordinator