On Saturday, football will
return to Penn State.
A new era under coach Bill O’Brien will begin, and the world will watch to see how the new Nittany Lions will move forward.
Many of the old traditions are gone, swept aside like Coach Paterno’s statue by winds of change.
What will take their place?
There are still adamant boosters who identify deeply with those traditions and steadfastly refuse to accept the truth of what happened.
They say the Freeh report was flawed, and the NCAA sanctions unfairly harm people who were not to blame. Some of these arguments may have merit, but no defense can justify what happened to the children Sandusky abused while others turned their heads.
Much of what was built up over the past four decades has been swept away.
Clinging to those memories will do nothing to help promote the healing needed in the community.
Just like a community struggling to rebuild in the aftermath of a destructive storm, Penn State faces a long road to recovery.
However in this case it wasn’t buildings and neighborhoods that were shattered, but the lives of all of those affected by Sandusky’s crimes.
This includes not just those who have experienced sexual abuse themselves, but also other survivors in the community who have struggled to find support, and even fans whose beliefs in the integrity of the program were shattered.
Football can play a part in the rebuilding.
I hope that it will. It represents a return of familiar traditions and a sense of normalcy. But it would be unwise to assume that with the return of football everything is okay.
Games will continue to be played, but if people see victories as a kind triumph over adversity, they will sadly miss the point.
The lesson we all must learn from the Sandusky scandal is that sexual abuse is far more common, and does far more harm to those who have experienced sexual abuse than we believed. The only adversity that matters is that faced by survivors of abuse.
If it is to heal, Penn State must acknowledge that truth, and embrace a communal sense of duty to protect the vulnerable among us and to provide help to those who have been harmed. This is not penance for the sins of the past, it is the only way to ensure those sins aren’t repeated.
Every survivor can recover and rebuild the damage caused by abuse. But without hope and support, the work of healing can be impossibly difficult.
Assuming the stadium is filled on Saturday, over 18,000 survivors of sexual abuse will sit in the stands.
Fans, players, students, alumni, faculty, and staff all have a role to play in helping to rebuild lives shattered by the impact of sexual abuse. If the community comes together to support this rebuilding effort, the new era under Coach O’Brian will create a legacy far greater than the one that existed before.
Chris Anderson is the executive director at MaleSurvivor and is the Daily Collegian’s guest columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org