Calling Audibles Part I: “Sudden Destruction”

When they say
“There is peace and security,”
then suddenly destruction
come upon them,
as labor pains upon
a pregnan
t woman,
and th
ere will be no escape.
~1 Thessalonians 5:3

The Defensive Coordinator at a place that plays blue-collar/smash mouth football like Penn State surely appears heroic.  Jerry Sandusky’s “Linebacker U” defense was known for its strength and dominance.

There were also simultaneously whispers around college football that Jerry and his “Second Mile” charity were less than heroic.  Now that the scandal at Penn State is out and heads are rolling, people are comparing notes on the things they had heard through the years about Sandusky’s abhorrent patterns of child sexual abuse.

Now we know that there were people who knew more than whispers and rumors—we know there were witnesses and that they included some of his co-workers, even police who heard Sandusky himself admit that he showered with ten year olds.  Sandusky told a mother who confronted him about showering with her son with the police hiding in the other room, “I wish I were dead.”  (NPR, “All Thing Considered” on 11/11/11).

What is more tragic, a man who serially destroyed the lives of young boys he said he wanted to help or all the people who knew and even saw what he was doing and let it continue?  As a survivor of sexual violence myself I can say that all involved are in the grip of deep demonic distortions that leave the victims forever diminished in their ability to be fully alive.   Candle light vigils are small consolation for the years of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, isolation, depression, anger and deep woundedness that victims of sexual abuse suffer—especially when the abuse is suffered during childhood.    There is no way to make this right—even if Sandusky gets his due from the justice system.

People wonder how a place like Happy Valley, with a Coach like Joe Paterno, could be a place where these horrific things could happen.

When the students rioted it surely wasn’t just about losing JoePa.  They were losing much more than that—they were losing their good feelings about a place they had trusted, they were losing people who helped their lives make sense, people who gave them dreams to dream.  They were losing a whole sense of purpose and place.  They thought they had “peace and security” in a place like Happy Valley, then “suddenly destruction will come upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:3).

They didn’t want to think that such a horrible thing could happen in their house, in their family, under the watch of the one they revered and respected.  It is a chilling reality to face when we realize the banality of evil, as Hannah Arendt described it during the Nazi trials after World War II.  When evil looks like us we want to somehow otherize it and somehow deny it is real.  We want to go back to the way things were before we knew the truths that tell us we might need to change ourselves, too.  It is easier if evil comes from monsters, from people who look different than we do, from those who live on the margins.

But the crumbling has gained momentum and there is nothing that can stop it now.

Indeed in all of college football a tide is gaining strength that is uncovering abuses and excesses of all types.   And this tide toward revealing corruption is all around us in the larger world—things are not going to be the same again.  Those who have suffered from the abuses, the excesses, and the inequities are gaining strength from hearing the voices of others who are saying “no more.”

If we really want to learn something from this tragedy, we’ll learn that concentrations of unchecked power, hierarchies that rest untouchable and beyond reproach, institutions that are “too big to fail,” and cults of personality create conditions for disasters like the one at Penn State.  The audible for the football world to call has to do with learning new skills that involve how to share power and how to embrace dissonant voices so that we can hear and heed hard truths. 

The “sudden destruction” that has taken hold in college football these days has actually been a long time coming.  And like a woman gripped in labor whose best bet is to surrender to the labor pains and breathe, our sports-loving society could do well to accept that something old has to die so that something new can be born.  And hopefully things will never be the same again.

16 thoughts on “Calling Audibles Part I: “Sudden Destruction””

  1. Marilyn says:

    WOW Marcia Mount Shoop!!! You have given me goose bumps this Monday Morning!!!!!! It is a comfort that where every you go I will be able to read your blogs!!!!

    1. Marcia says:

      Thank you, Marilyn. I appreciate your affirmations!

  2. Jon Heckerman says:

    Right on, Marcia!

    1. Marcia says:

      Thank you, Jon. Glad to have your comment!

  3. Beverly says:

    I have been ruminating on all this too, thinking about how to use this now, in our cuurent places to be part of the change. Excellent, Marsha!!

    1. Marcia says:

      Thank you for your comment, Beverly. I know these are issues dear to your heart. Maybe you can be a guest blogger in the series?!

  4. Toni says:

    Thanks Marcia. It is sad to think that this kind of evil can penetrate what we often consider a safe place for our children. Although I do not have children, there are young children in my family and I want them to have safe places to pursue sports. While we cannot put them in a bubble, hopefully we can help them recognize evil and to not be afraid to speak up. Thanks Marcia.

    1. Marcia says:

      Yes, Toni, what a heartbreak for the parents who trusted their children with people revered in the community. It makes what happened an even more destructive betrayal. So much is lost.

  5. Heather says:

    Marcia, thank you so much for this blog and specifically these words. I felt my whole body reacting to the suffering of these countless children and the horrific acts of “destruction” committed against them… each one representing a death really. It is hard to think that more “death” is needed, but you point to many things that need to die so that God can do a new thing. I let that be my prayer. Thank you again!

    1. Marcia says:

      Thank you, Heather, for your comments. Yes, it is hard to hear, hard to take in all the pain and the violence of it all. Your grief is an important acknowledgment of how sexual violence shatters lives. We all need to keep praying and grieving.

  6. Terry says:

    Well done, Marcia – it takes a special kind of person to stand up to unchecked power and abuse. I hope that we will see more of them … and soon. Interesting that “J. Edgar” premiered at the theaters this past weekend.

    1. Marcia says:

      Yes, Terry. Leadership matters! I am praying that this is a call out to leaders who are not afraid to get involved and really care about people. The skills needed for strong leadership today are different than they use to be, but they still involve true care for others and courage.

  7. Mindy Adams says:

    Preach it!

    1. Marcia says:

      Thank you, Mindy, from one preacher to another!

  8. Speaking Truth to power! You go, Marcia!

    1. Marcia says:

      Thank you, Susan.

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