Wednesday, February 29, 2012

No Heroes Here

by Holly Hughes

As the last Thanksgiving holiday came and went, the social media sites were busy reminding us all that we have much to be thankful for. A lot of postings were put up honoring our military. Those brave men and women who literally sacrifice their lives so that we might be free. They are heroes. They should be honored, remembered and thanked every day that we breathe the air of freedom and enjoy all the rights afforded to us by this great country of ours.

Then my thought turned homeward. As proud as I am of our fighting men and women, I am equally appalled and embarrassed by what is happening on our college campuses across the country. We call them institutions of higher learning. The young people attending them are supposed to be our best and brightest. What a sad state of affairs. What exactly are we teaching these young people? Certainly not honesty, integrity, decency or compassion. Arguably, a well-rounded individual would be encouraged to learn and grow morally and spiritually as well as intellectually.

Instead, what has come to light, shockingly, is a hierarchy that values the reputation of a football program over the physical and psychological well-being of children. As we watch the Penn State Pedophilia Scandal unfold it becomes increasingly aware that multiple adults were aware of what Jerry Sandusky was doing and yet, not one stepped up to do the right thing. Despite the fact that Pennsylvania has mandatory reporting laws, the head-coach, the graduate assistant, the janitor, the janitor’s co-worker, the janitor’s supervisor, the head of finance and the head of business decided to disregard those laws and allow a pedophile to continue abusing children unchecked. We have all heard the expression that it takes a village to raise a child. All it would have taken here is one man. Just one to step up, to “man up” as it were. 

Instead, we see conspiracy of silence carried out by the very people who are supposed to be setting examples for our young people. Most, if not all, of these men knew that Sandusky had six adopted children and took in foster children. Not to mention, the hundreds of children he had access to through his “charity”, The Second Mile. Can any of these men argue with a straight face or a clear conscience that they thought pedophilia was a one time event? Part of the Penn State Alma Mater reads “may we do nothing here that would bring shame” or words to that effect. They have certainly failed miserably in this instance. The example they have set is one of dishonesty, deceit and disregarding the law if it might affect their bottom line. There are no heroes here.

Next, we turn to the Syracuse mess. Assistant coach Bernie Fine has been accused publicly of molesting at least two young boys with a third recently raising new allegations. At first blush, this case seems distinguishable. There was not a long grand jury investigation which unearthed multiple victims. We had no eyewitnesses to this alleged abuse. Or, so we thought. In a sick twist we now find out that not only did coach Fine’s wife know about what was happening, but she even made jokes about it with one of the alleged victims. She admits in a 2002 recording that she “knew everything” that coach Fine did to this young boy. In fact, she tells him, she looked through the window one time and watched while she was pretending to take out the trash. In my humble opinion the trash she should have taken out of her home was not the sack of garbage she was carrying. 

Here again, we have a coach, an authority figure, who not only betrayed the young boys he is accused of molesting but every student to whom he held himself out as a role model. Then we turn to the wife, who is, incidentally, still married to this man. The same man who she explained on the 2002 tape “had no interest in me and vice versa." The same man she told the alleged victim could only get satisfaction from boys and not her. A mother of three children herself, not only did she not rescue this young boy from the abuse, but she herself engaged in a sexual relationship with him when he turned 18. The woman with the power to stop this situation, instead exacerbated it. There are no heroes here.

Another disturbing university incident comes to us out of University of Florida, A & M. This past year a young man, a 26 year old died as a result of hazing. Which fraternity, you might ask? None. This was the band. Yes, the band. In the wake of this death we are now hearing an alarming number of parents coming out to the press and saying they had lodged numerous complaints about the hazing in the past. Some authorities at the school have come out in defense of themselves blaming it on certain students. They claim they strongly discouraged hazing and taught that it was a prohibited practice. But, ultimately, doesn’t the buck stop with the leaders? If they knew there were “rogue” students out there continuing to engage in this practice, why weren’t they dismissed from the band? Could it be, again, the reputation and monetary advantage to having them remain untarnished? I don’t know. What I do know is that a young man is dead and it could have been prevented. There are no heroes here.

Lastly, I turn to the events at UC-Davis. A group of peaceful protestors, sitting cross-legged on the ground with their arms intertwined were sprayed full-on in the face with pepper spray by the university police. I am a huge proponent of law order. As a felony prosecutor for ten years I got to know a lot of police officers and have enormous respect for them and the job they do. But, having said that, I cannot support the decision here to pepper spray a bunch of college students in the face for exercising their right to free speech. In all the reports released on this incident there is no claim that these students were threatening, verbally or otherwise. There is no allegation that any of them had weapons. No hint that the crowd standing around was rushing at the police or being intimidating in any way. Once again, the people in authority have failed to act appropriately. The people with the power to set a good example, instead used excessive force simply because they didn’t get their way. There are no heroes here.

It has been a sad and disturbing year for colleges in the news. Hopefully, these terrible tragedies will cause those in power to review their policies and their priorities. An acknowledgment that being charged with the molding of America’s youth is not a challenge to be taken lightly. We must not only tell them to do the right thing, we must set an example by doing it ourselves. If we trained our college students like the military is training our troops, with honor and a sense of duty we might turn out some heroes of our own.


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