Sports, pack mentality and abuse

Note: This may trigger due to talk of abuse and the Sandusky abuse scandal.

Cold, hard concrete floor
Wooden seats, newly stained
Cicadas singing
Tree silhouettes dance across the window

This is the first verse of a poem that I wrote today.  I won’t share the rest of it with you, because it’s too raw and personal.

Raw is probably the best way to describe how I’m feeling at the moment.  I’m struggling to make sense of what is going on, and there might not be too much of this which makes sense, but I’ll try to keep it coherent…

When the news of the Sandusky scandal broke, I wasn’t surprised to find that this man had been protected by those around him.  It makes sense – power, loyalty, pack mentality, morality, etc; all play a part in people staying silent about abuse for so long.  This, I understand.  I even understand the anger that some of the students exhibited at the firing of Joe Paterno… when your illusions of someone are shown to be false, it’s difficult to cope with.  I know that this is only an assumption about their motivations, but it makes sense to me.

It also makes a certain amount of sense that the photos I saw associated with the scandal headlines, were not those of Sandusky; but instead of Joe Paterno.  He was the more well known of the two.  But it also shows another sign of how the real tragedy of this scandal gets lost… where is the talk of the victims?  These boys (some of whom are now men), were vulnerable and allegedly abused.  As far as I can tell, they have yet to determine the identity of the victim in the showers.  I realise that identifying this person might be difficult after all these years; but to me, he’s symbolic of how anonymous and vulnerable these victims were.

This is where it becomes difficult to separate my own experiences from the ones surrounding the scandal.  I often describe myself as being invisible and disposable; and this is exactly how these boys seem to have been treated by Sandusky.  They were vulnerable, and he was in a position of power… he is described as paying attention to them, giving them gifts and opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise had – that is, he groomed them.

The cynic in me says that this invisibility and disposability has spilled over into some of the media coverage of the scandal, as the victims take a back-seat to the careers of football coaches…

I’m the first to admit that I don’t know anything about football, but I do know a bit about the sports pack mentality that can contribute to this sort of cover-up.  I grew up in a small town where the weekends were dominated by sport.  It was a crowd that you were either a part of it, or not.  If you were part of the crowd, then your life became intertwined with these other people to such an extent, that your children would call your friends “uncle” or “aunt”; you would laugh as you watched your drunk friend stumble towards their car when the bar closed; you would laugh at the racist and sexist jokes, then tell a few of your own…  It was very much “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”.  Admittedly, this was 30 odd years ago, but some of that sport culture still remains.  Even if the acts have changed, the camaraderie and sense of community remains.  When things get bad, you talk to one of the crowd, you don’t involve outsiders…  So even though I don’t agree with his actions, I can understand why the graduate assistant called his father, and then talked to his superiors within the organisation.  He failed that boy in the shower; and in so doing, kept his position within the crowd – it takes courage to stand up to the crowd… isn’t it sad that it takes courage to do the right thing?

The problem is, that understanding the potential reasons why people failed those boys, doesn’t help.  Firstly, it’s only conjecture on my part; but secondly, and more importantly… those boys were allegedly abused.  All of the reasons why, won’t take that away.  Nothing will reverse these events, all we can do is support the people who need it… the victims.

Now playing: Natalie Merchant – My skin
via FoxyTunes


24 thoughts on “Sports, pack mentality and abuse

  1. What a tragic case. These children were failed by those who should have protected them. Unfortunately power really does corrupt. I hope all those involved are getting the care they need.

    It sounds like you’ve been reading some yucky stuff today. I hope you’re not feeling too crook as a result. It is a lovely warm afternoon where I am and I can hear the birds singing. I’m going out for dinner tonight at a boutique brewery and you alone know why that’s not going to be too much fun for me! So I’m sending you some calm and safe (and sober) thoughts, just in case you need them. 🙂

    • Hi Annelise,

      It is a tragic case. What makes it worse, is that the victims were all considered “vulnerable”; so I’m not sure if they would have received any assistance to cope with the abuse, if they had wanted/needed it.

      The boutique brewery sounds lovely, I hope you have a good time – even with the restrictions 🙂

      It’s trying to be a beautiful day here, and I’m going to head home in a couple of hours and read a book while curled up with Winnie (my cat).

      Take care,

  2. I was wondering if other people in different countries would know about this whole thing or not. I wasn’t sure how news travels in some situations.

    I think you broke down the elements of this case very well CG.

    When I heard about it and stuff started hitting the fan, I felt anger that the people were supporting the coach instead of focusing on the victims. I mean I was really upset about it. It seemed like they got pushed to the side and football was more important. Some guys career was more important then those boys. Then the whole assistant thing which Freasha and I have been discussing in comments. That was like a someone punching me in the stomach and pulling the rug out from under me.

    Everyone is so busy protecting their jobs or trying to control the fallout that the real issue has been lost. The kids that were hurt.

    When it comes to being disposable and invisible, I understand what you mean. The thing is that, for the abusers, kids are exactly that. In their mind the kids are objects but that doesn’t make it true in real life. It’s in their heads so that they can abuse and not think about it. It’s not true.

    Now, I’m seeing that the Sandusky is making comments like , “Yes I horsed around with the boys” or “Yes I showered with them” or “Yes I touched them on the legs with no sexual intent” and I just can’t believe it. You can practically see his lawyeres trying to spin what he did int just “playing around” so that they can say the kids misunderstood. The whole thing makes me sick and no one is talking about the victims.

    My therapist mentioned this at my session this week when I brought it up and she said that people still have a hard time accepting that child sexual abuse happens in their world. They can’t handle it so they ignore or do whatever these people are doing. That pisses me off because just wishing it away doesn’t help the kids, it makes it worse.

    Sorry this comment got long. This whole “scandal” is just upsetting on many levels. I’m glad you wrote about it, but I also want you to take care of yourself and not let it take you to a dark place. Enjoy your book and sitting with Winnie. 🙂

    • Hi tb,

      It’s been difficult to avoid the scandal – it’s in the news, blogs, twitter… everywhere.

      Yes, the victims seem to be both sidelined, and re-victimised. They are nameless, faceless “Victim 1”, or “shower room victim”. I don’t know if I could cope with such dehumanisation; but yet, I know that the anonymity is important. I suppose I object to how it’s all being portrayed within the media. It’s a circus.

      I’m sorry this is all affecting you so much… please, try to avoid the news if it’s so upsetting. I know that it can be like a moth to a flame type thing, but sometimes it’s too much.

      Take care,

      • You’re right, it’s hard not to read about it especially when the headlines grab your attention with some new twist or something.

        I read the link you put up written by the former football player and I like his firm stance on the subject and his discussion of loyalty and morality.

        I’ll give your advice to me right back to you: don’t read about it if it’s too upsetting.

        Take care of yourself, maybe do something distracting?

        • I’m glad you found the opinion piece by Heath Evans helpful.

          I’m trying to work at the moment 🙂 It’s difficult to concentrate and keep grounded.

          One moment at a time…

          Take care,

  3. This is truly an astronomical disgrace. I just tweeted an article that I read about this because the cover-up involved with this scandal is disgustingly shameful.

    What is so upsetting is that this sort of thing is happening everyday, and in many various circles. I’m not a sports buff, but I know what you mean when you speak of the “pack” mentality that seems to go hand in hand with sports. They all had each other’s back… covered for each other. Even the university police kept quiet when notified of the shower incident. Truly shameful.

    As you mention, many of these boys have yet to be identified, and most are adults now. They were going to a place that was supposed to serve the purpose of helping troubled youth. For all we know…. some were already abuse victims before they walked through those doors looking for safety and guidance. Instead, they received more abuse.

    I hope you’re hanging in there CG. I know this is not easy for you to read about and write about after what you’ve already been subjected to this year.

    Take it easy if you can. ~ Mareeya

    • Hi Mareeya,

      I’ve just read one of the better opinion pieces about the issues – see Former NFL Fullback Heath Evans On His Wife’s Childhood Abuse And The Limits Of Loyalty. Tells of the difference between loyalty and morality.

      It gets me as well… they were vulnerable for some reason, went to a place of supposed safety, and were hurt. The betrayal within that is great. There’s betrayal on so many levels within this scandal.

      This was really difficult to write. I wish I hadn’t for several reasons, but I did.

      Thank you for the support…

      Please take care,

      • Thanks for sharing the article by Heath Evans. He did an excellent job standing up for victims of abuse. I hope the fact that his article was posted on a sports page, as well as the fact that he’s a former NFL football player, allows his message to be heard by a broader audience.

        I really appreciate you posting the link here. I’m going to share his article on my Facebook page. I have a couple of co-workers who should give it a read.

        I knew it must have been painful for you to write this, but I think you opened the door for many of us to vent about how angry we are. Hopefully it helped a part of you to release your anger as well.
        As always… I admire your courage.

        Take care,

        • I was also hoping that Heath’s article might reach a broader reader base as well. It’s a good message, I know influenced by the experiences of his wife, and seeing her pain.

          Take care,

  4. CG,

    Like others here, I don’t think you are being cynical at all about the media’s focus upon the circus and the drama and the abuser and the collaborators … and their lack of focus on, or appropriate attention to the victims of that man’s crimes. It really does speak of the ignorance that surrounds us about the phenomenon of abuse, the dynamics involved, and the horrible costs. The only good thing that can emerge from here is the increased focus on the importance of telling about abuse and educating people, including children. That is happening and will happen. A lot of brave and persistent people are working towards this. Yes, it’s not happening quickly enough for our tastes, but that’s where we’re going.

    I want to echo Mareeya’s comment that your sharing is brave and so valuable for others … but to also echo those comments of concern about you, and how exposing yourself to triggering things may at the very least be harder for you at some times. I think I can say that none of us here will enjoy the tradeoff of benefitting from your writing and insights on the one hand, but witnessing you feeling unsafe, alone, and in distress on the other.

    Please take care.

    • Hi Michael,

      I really want to believe you that this will raise awareness, but will it? This is possibly my cynical side coming out, but how many people will see the words “vulnerable” or “disadvantaged”, and not identify with the victims, so therefore will continue to believe that abuse will never happen to them, or their loved ones.

      The role of the passive witness is possibly going to hit home to more people. I know that people would like to think that they would do more than Mike McQueary did, but would they? I had a couple of incidents where my abuse was witnessed by a teacher, and it was ignored. Then there is the partners who suspect, or witness their spouse/partner abuse their child, and do nothing, or blame the child.

      I do think that things are improving. I hope they are. They have to!

      Thank you for your concern 🙂

      Take care,

      • Hi CG,

        Again, I think your cynicism is also just a reflection of realism. Some people will reflexively look away from the experience of the victims, due to sociocultural “training” and the phenomenon of keeping abuse hidden, use their own notions of themselves to disidentify with victims, etc. I feel like there will always be that, and the agents of change come more from the focus of activism, and the spread of ideas and behavior through that. Per Margaret Mead’s words,
        “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

        Scary times. In truth, they were always scary. Here’s to recognizing and assisting the process of raising awareness in people, in society.

        Here’s also to lifting each other up, in the process. Please take care. Know that if you do dive headfirst into a hole, we here will endeavor to help with the scrapes and bruises. My hope is that your voice can be heard, but that your health needn’t be a casualty. That just doesn’t seem right.

        Best … With Support,

        • I agree with Margaret Mead’s words… Although I’m obviously in an odd space, as I immediately thought “see what Hitler did”. But if Hitler can do horror, then good can happen too – I’m thinking of the It gets better project, amongst others.

          Ignorance and a lack of empathy, are a couple of the biggest barriers to change. But change can happen…

          I think I wrote this post because it did stir up so much from my past. I had a few things to work through as a result. I haven’t worked them through, but I think writing this did help that process. One step at a time 🙂

          Thank you, and take care,

  5. I find it most helpful not to read about abuse cases in the news – especially when I know they will upset me. Why pursue a trigger when you could so easily walk around it. This is a case in another country. People here are not talking about it in conversation. It is nothing to do with us. With the very best of intentions and the kindest of thoughts may I suggest that you simply skip the headlines that hint at CSA. Your life might well be better for it. All the grief you must feel reading it then posting about it then reading and replying to the comments of others. Those hours of upset could be so easily side-stepped. It is not avoidance – it is good sense. After-all, if you saw a great gaping hole in the footpath would you jump right on in ? With love and kindness as always.

    • Hi Grace,

      I can often avoid the triggering news, but sometimes I get caught like a deer in headlights. Because I was already vulnerable, and I identified with many aspects of the case, I got caught up in this story. But, I know what you mean; and I can often side-step the hole in the footpath. However, sometimes I think that I deserve to dive into it head first. Sometimes, I can’t stop myself from doing so.

      I often suffer from a lack of good sense… 🙂

      Take care,

  6. CG, Hope you’re doing okay.

    I read a post in a blog a couple days ago that made sad sense relating to the media’s focus on the sports angle rather than the fact that children were abused.

    The blogger mentioned that it is difficult for adult victims to go public because of shame and fear of not being believed, etc. Unfortunately, with a lack of story input from the victims, the focus of media turns to school and sport. Sandusky speaking and sports fan reaction feeds the media beast.

    I suppose child abuse is such a horrific and harsh reality we don’t want to know that our neighbor or friend or co-worker was abused. We haven’t created a safe enough environment for people to come forward as adults and tell what happened -except for within the realm of anonymity that the blogosphere provides.

    I’m not sure what this sad media situation tells current victims. On the one hand, I’m very glad we safe guard the identities of victims. On the other, it’s sad that we live in a society that tells CSA (or any sexual assault) victims that it’s best not to share your identity. We reinforce the shame already felt. I don’t know… very sad.

    And then there is the hesitation for the masses to want to believe that it happens -as was already mentioned. We don’t want to believe it could happen in our neighborhoods, our schools or that it could happen to people we know or that the perpetrators could be someone we know!

    😦 lots of sad. & creepy! I still can’t get over what Sandusky said in his interview. Seriously! wow. I guess we can only hope that maybe this will cause a few parents to have conversations with their kids about what is inappropriate behavior by adults.

    Take care,

    • Hi rl,

      The anonymity of the victims within the Sandusky case, and in general, means that the general public doesn’t get a chance to “identify” with the victim. It’s more difficult to relate to an faceless “Victim 1” statement, than it is to identify with a person who is “Joe Bloggs” and has their photo in the paper. I remember a line from the movie The Accused, where they talk about how tiny the character Jodie Foster played is, and how that will impact on the jury… it’s this sort of thing that the general public doesn’t get to see, or understand.

      But saying that, I can also totally understand people wanting to keep their anonymity… me included! I’ve told a few people that I was abused, and the most common reaction has been to ignore what was just said, and carry on as usual. It doesn’t encourage full disclosure of any sort to a wider audience. So yes, we do need a safer environment in order to be totally open.

      There is also the complication, that here we have name suppression laws regarding the naming of anyone involved in a sexual crime – both the perpetrator, and the victim. This is particularly to protect the identity of the victim, and to ensure that there is no ongoing repercussions of the case. Again, sad that we don’t live in a society where the victims need to be protected from negative repercussions over time.

      If more survivors came forward, would that lessen the impact of the societal shame? Possibly. But it would take a huge societal shift before I was willing to come forward in a general way about being a survivor, let alone having mental health issues associated with being a survivor. People at work have still been known to joke about domestic violence, yet know that I’m a survivor of domestic violence. Hardly encourages you to feel safe, aye?

      It almost seems like a nasty circle… society doesn’t make it safe to come forward as a survivor, and the only way to make it safer, is to show a human face to that survivorship… Can we have one without the other?

      I know things have definitely improved… there is much more awareness that there is at least the possibility for abuse than there was in the past. So things can, and have changed. But, there is still the thought that it will happen to someone else, rather than to someone you know, or love.

      I liked Jon Stewart’s take on the Sandusky interview 🙂

      Take care,

  7. I really hate that there seems to be this need to “protect” the group by covering up instead of protecting it by purging the abusers so that it can be a safe, responsible group.

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