Let's Talk Turkey About Manhood After Penn State

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Allegations of child sex abuse at Penn State provide a teachable moment for male sports culture--and the rest of us: Being silent can now get you in trouble. Rob Okun says the NCAA should start running teach-ins about the new game rules straight away.

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Breaking News Hibernation

The facts for anyone coming out of news hibernation: Jerry Sandusky, former defensive coordinator under legendary Penn State football coach Paterno, was arrested on 40 counts related to charges that he raped eight boys beginning in 1998.

While Sandusky and his lawyer have spoken out against a media lynching and reminded us all of the presumption of innocence--a cornerstone of our judicial system--emotions are running high, especially after revelations of a possible high-level administrative cover-up following a 2002 incident.

But in the meantime, the chips have already fallen, hard.

Well-loved Paterno, the most winning coach in college football history, and longtime Penn State President Graham Spanier, were summarily fired. The university's athletic director, Tim Curley, and a vice president, Gary Schultz, were indicted for not calling police following a grad student's eyewitness account of Sandusky anally raping a 10- year-old boy in a campus shower.

If any of these charges are true, it would seem that Paterno did the bare minimum, reporting what he heard about his longtime assistant only one rung up the chain of command.

While legally in the clear, morally Paterno missed the goal by a wide margin. No points scored and a lifetime penalty. His silence was deafening and encompasses that of many men.

In the days ahead, let's reach out to the riled up students at Penn State, the ones who first came to Coach Joe Pa's defense. (It should be noted that before Paterno was fired, other Penn State students held a vigil in support of the victims.)

Starting at Penn State, let's get ESPN and Sports Illustrated to broadcast and cover the teach-ins nationwide so the students can see this is a national crisis, not just something surrounding them.

Redefining Manhood

"The bottom line," says activist-writer Kevin Powell, "is that our notions of manhood are totally and embarrassingly out of control . . . [S]ome of us have got to stand up and say enough, that we've got to redefine what it is to be a man . . . But to get to that new kind of manhood means we've got to really dig into our souls and admit the old ways are not only not working, but are painfully hurtful to women, to children, to communities, businesses, institutions and government, to sport and play and to ourselves." As he asks, "Looking in the mirror is never easy but if not now, when?"

The truth is, most men are good guys who don't abuse women, girls, boys or other men. Still, the overwhelming majority of perpetrators of abuse against women, girls and boys are male. So while the minority abuse, assault, rape, sometimes murder, we look away mouthing our sorry excuse, "That's not me."

Men have a long history of colluding with other men in codes of silence, said Ted Bunch and Tony Porter of A Call to Men in a press statement, not long after the Penn State revelations came to light.

"This pervasive silence among men in our culture to protect the status quo, to win at any cost and never tell on your brother is a glaring example of how . . . the current model…of manhood operates to demean, diminish and oppress anyone . . . not considered a 'real man' in our society. Our fear of being perceived as less than a man or weak, keeps us in line with these codes, regardless of right and wrong," they said.

Agents of Changes

Wherever the silence comes from, it ignores our responsibility collectively to insist that more men join women in working to end rape and abuse. Only when men recognize our relationship to perpetrator, bystander and-or victim, can we become most effective as change agents.

Out of the scandal at Penn State may come some good: the sexual abuse of boys may no longer remain invisible, "kept under the tight cloak of domination, stigma and internalized masculinity," as Men's Resources International's Steven Botkin reminds us.

"The impact of this reality feeds the male violence machine in ways we may not yet fully understand," Botkin said. "Our collective silence about this part of the system means many of its victims go unrecognized and limits our capacity for intervention and prevention."

Women, girls, boys and men should be free both from actual harm and the threat of abuse. Women have long been on the frontlines of efforts to end domestic and sexual violence. For more than a quarter century, many men have joined them, challenging the masculine culture of aggression even as it continues to try to bully us.

We need more men to mobilize now--from tiny hamlets to urban centers--from the grandstands and the sidelines.


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Rob Okun, editor of the print and online magazine, Voice Male, is former executive director of an antiviolence men's center and maintains a psychotherapy practice in Amherst, Ma.


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The Penn State scandal has been grossly mishandled, and the news media has done NOTHING to make it any better. The PSU Board of Trustees should have told the media to "SHUT UP, STAND BACK, and WE'LL GET BACK TO YOU!" Instead, they performed one of the swiftest knee-jerk reactions in recent history! JoePa did what was right ACCORDING TO THE RULES of working in a college/university setting. He made his information known to the next-upward person in the chain of command. It was up to THAT person to go forward and pass the information to HIS superior(s). If you value your job, YOU DO NOT JUMP THE CHAIN OF COMMAND! There Are Protocols! And if you are part of that protocol, you had BETTER take the responsibility of the job to heart. Who did Joe Paterno give the information to, after receiving it from the witness? The person next in the upward chain of command, of course! THAT is the person who dropped the ball, NOT Joe Paterno! The message given to Penn State students, and the rest of our youth, is "don't be an informant, because if you do, you'll be made to suffer worse than the actual criminal!" That's what's happened to Joe Paterno. Several on the B of T have been trying to get rid of JoePa for years, and so they used this scandal to get what they wanted, instead of doing what they should have done and held off any decisions until after an inquiry was made. I'm not Catholic - I'm not even a Christian; I'm a Freethinker - but I have held the highest respect for the work Joe Paterno has done in making sure the football players that graduated from Penn State EARNED THEIR DEGREES. It wasn't just about football with JoePa as head coach, as it is with so many other colleges, where some football "grads" can't even speak proper English when interviewed! The women on the Board of Trustees should have noticed this and made a LOUD attempt to stop the Board from excoriating the one person who came forward, and they didn't. Where were these women? Why was emotion allowed to have full control instead of reason and logic? What damage has been allowed to occur now? I see the reign of Jealousy and Duplicity in the performance of the PSU Board of Trustees. I am woefully unimpressed by their idea of "responsibility!"