The Second Mile: Sports, Spirituality and Sexual Abuse

Posted: November 30, 2011 in Life
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The sports world and the nation have been rocked in the past several weeks with the allegations of sexual abuse of children by a former assistant football coach at Penn State University. The coach, Jerry Sandusky, has been accused of molesting at least 8 boys over the course of 15 years with more alleged victims coming forward seemingly each week. This issue is again front-page news as Syracuse University recently fired long time associate basketball coach, Bernie Fine, in the wake of his alleged sexual abuse of children.

The Title of Sandusky's Biography Says It All

One of the more sickening aspects of the Penn State/Sandusky case is that Mr. Sandusky allegedly used his own charitable organization as a means to attract potential victims. The name of that organization is “The Second Mile.” This is presumably a reference to the passage of scripture in Matthew 5:41 where Jesus says, “Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” The essence of this passage is that we are called to go above and beyond the call of duty. We are to go the extra mile. However, in the Penn State case, when it came to protecting kids, it’s clear that many people did not go “The Second Mile”…they never even took the first step.

I won’t go into the details of the case. They have already been discussed ad nauesum by writers far more skilled than me. While it is easy to point the finger at head coaches Joe Paterno at Penn State or Jm Boeheim at Syracuse or other bystanders in each case, it is very important that we do not ignore the other conspirators that are complicit and culpable: the rest of us. As a society, we have created a culture of silence that provides the cover of darkness for the demon of abuse to thrive.

Whenever we choose to talk about issues such as sexual abuse or domestic violence, we focus on two groups of people: the Abused and the Abusers – and rightly so. We as a society, must provide avenues for the Abused to find HEALTH and the Abusers to find HELP. The primary way to help an abuser is to ensure that he/she no longer has access to potential victims – this includes incarceration.

But, while it is important for us to focus on the Abused and the Abusers, we cannot do so to the exclusion of “the rest of us.” When it comes to dealing with abuse, “the rest of us” fall into one of four categories.

Accusers

Accusers are the first (and worst) group. They are second only to Abusers in their ability to inflict pain on a victim. Accusers are those who shift blame onto the Abused for being abused. Accusers say things like, “What did YOU do to make him/her do that to you?” or “You shouldn’t have been there in the first place!” or the most egregious “He/she would never do that. You’re a liar!”

Because Accusers blame the Abused for being abused, they perpetuate the abuse and deepen the victimization. Accusers are especially damaging because they violate the trust of the Abused and often cause them to internalize their pain and not seek help. Whenever someone confides in us that they have been abused our first response should be one of support. Even if we still need to assess we should never accuse.

Allowers

Allowers are almost as bad as Accusers. They are the passive-aggressive enablers who allow the abuse to continue. Allowers try to cover up the abuse. They try to minimize the evil of the abuse and its affect on the Abused. The Penn State case is full of Allowers. People knew of Mr. Sandusky’s alleged abuse as far back as the early 90s, yet they continued to allow him to have unfettered access to children.

Perhaps, the greatest example of Allowers in recent history was the huge sex abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church. Bishops served as Allowers by simply transferring pedophilic priests to another diocese or parish instead of defrocking them and reporting them to the police.

However, the Catholic Church does not own the patent on Allowers. We are all guilty. Everytime we hear of or suspect abuse and do nothing – we are Allowers. When we know of someone who has a history of being an Abuser, yet continue to give them access to other potential victims – we are Allowers. What we do not address…we allow.

Avoiders

While Allowers perpetuate abuse through their willful INACTION…Avoiders perpetuate abuse through their willful IGNORANCE. Avoiders pretend that abuse does not exist. They avoid the conversation whenever it comes up. Even if Avoiders suspect abuse, they choose to ignore it. Avoiders like to maintain a plausible deniability. Their favorite words are “I didn’t know” when in reality they didn’t WANT to know.

We can find Avoiders throughout the Penn State story, but where Avoiders truly thrive is within families. Avoiders say things like, “We don’t talk about that kind of stuff in our family.” or “In our family, we don’t air our dirty laundry.” Avoiders are afraid of the dark, but they don’t realize that darkness disappears the moment the light is turned on. Abuse thrives in the darkness. We can’t avoid it. We must turn on the lights!

Avengers

The fourth and final group is the Avengers. Avengers are the people who, when it comes to abuse, they don’t accuse, allow, or avoid. To avenge means to “exact satisfaction for a wrong.” Avengers don’t allow abuse to continue unabated.

“The Avengers” is also the name of the Marvel Comics band of superheroes who came together “to fight the foes that no single superhero can withstand.” Their battlecry was “Avengers Assemble!” Abuse is an evil so great that “no single superhero can withstand”, but their is a cry for the Avengers to assemble. We are all called to be Avengers. We must SPEAK OUT against abuse, STAND UP for the Abused, and STAND AGAINST the Abusers.

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!

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