We now have two scandals in college involving coaches using their positions to prey on young boys. They are different in degree—Sandusky apparently set up an elaborate system to deliver young victims to him while the allegations against Fine (he is uncharged and unconvicted) make him appear to have been more opportunistic. And they are different because at this point it appears that Penn State deliberately covered for Sandusky, allowing his predation machine to grind on while the university administrators counted the gate receipts, while Syracuse was far more responsible in its handling of the situation. But they are similar in that both these predators used the razzle dazzle of college sports as bait to attract young boys, the same way priests used the church and Boy Scout leaders used campfires.
The question, of course, is not why Sandusky and Fine did what they are alleged to have done. We know why they did it. Why do cats chase mice? Nor is the question, really, why Penn State bureaucrats chose to cover for Sandusky. Because that’s what faceless bureaucrats get paid to do–dig holes and bury things that smell. It would not surprise me at all if the regret felt by those now-out-of-work bureaucrats is less about not stopping Sandusky, and more regret they didn’t dig the hole deeper. No, the real question is why decent people didn’t do more—McQueary, Paterno, Laurie Fine.
The simple truth is that this is a crime that until very recently was not treated as a crime. Powerful old men have been buying and bullying young boys for sex forever, and by and large people have turned their heads. Maybe those involved would have jumped if it had been stranger-on-stranger sexual assault, or if the victims had been female, or if the predators had not been at the top of the social stratum and the victims lower down. Perhaps, if this had been a man in a van cruising a wealthy suburb and pulling a young girl in, those same people would have camped out on the door step of the police department until someone listened to them. But not for a poor boy sitting on the lap of rich old Uncle Bernie.
It is only now that our society is finally starting to really treat it as the crime it is. Good. It’s about time we stopped the bastards.
When I was a paperboy in Waycross, Georgia in the late sixties, there were two houses we were not allowed to enter if invited in by the owners—both middle aged white males. If told to come in to wait for our money on collection day or if offered a Coke, we were told to get on our bikes, ride away and tell Mr. Cardinal, who ran the circulation department. The owner of one of these ran a popular vegetable stand, and always had a young boy, working alongside him. Always a different boy and always from out of town. Mr. Cardinal knew enough to tell us to steer clear of these men, so he must have known. It’s certainly reasonable to think others must have known as well, but it was not talked about.
There was also a middle aged man, Jim, who delivered papers to the rural routes in a car. He always had a helper with him, a young boy. Mr. Cardinal also told us that none of us were allowed to ride in the car with Jim under any circumstances. Later, one of those helpers and I were both eighteen and living in Atlanta. One drunken night he told me that he’d been paid to have sex with Jim, not deliver papers. He boasted that he’d never touched a rolled up newspaper in his life. And then Rob told me that he’d been a male prostitute since he was 12, standing on the street behind our only hotel, The Ware, and waiting for the town’s doctors and lawyers to pick him up in their Cadillacs and offer him for a ride. It is impossible to believe that the police, and many other people, didn’t know what was going on.
It’s not that people in Waycross approved of sexual assault. We had a boy from my high school, a prominent athlete, who “went away” my junior year, allegedly for raping young girls. But rather, the crime of older men getting sex from young men by giving them gifts and money was not seen as a crime, but rather an embarrassment. Nor were the victims seen as child victims, not really. They were seen as whores.
Partly, that is because they are male. Female school teachers who prey on their boy students typically get far lighter sentences than male teachers who prey on girl students. Society still tacitly acts as if males, whatever their age, are capable of making decisions about sex. If we believe that, then we as a society are stupid. They are children for Christ’s sake.
I know it’s easy to piss on Mike McQueary. I wasn’t there. I don’t really know what he did and didn’t do. It’s not always as easy as it seems. I once worked in oilfield construction with a man who traveled with his “step son,” a relationship that decidedly smelled and one where we all had our suspicions. Eventually I heard the man ended up in prison for child pornography. Should I have gone to the local police in Abbeville and told them that a guy I worked with had effeminate mannerisms and traveled with his step-son? Oilfield workers like me were the lowest form of trash in Abbeville, and they probably would have laughed me out of the station. Suspicion is not knowledge.
But I will tell you, looking at McQueary and Paterno and Laurie Fine, if I was in the same situation today, I think I would give it a try. Indeed, I think a lot of people who might have not done something before will do something now. Yeah, the cops are going to get flooded with false alarms. Tough. Let’s catch some of those assholes.
I am sorry for Bobby Davis and all those kids in State College, but guys, believe me: Because of you, all of us are a little more likely to pick up the phone. Thanks, man.