It seems like the internet is doing its darnedest to horrify me as of late, and I’m not anywhere near 4chan! My friend Sarah Moon tweeted this article from Relevant Magazine earlier tonight.
And I am horrified. To save you the click, Shaun King argues that we are like Joe Paterno because child rape is happening all over the world and we do nothing, just like Joe Paterno. And eventually, we’ll remember that Paterno was an awesome coach.
I’m willing to admit that Paterno was good at his job. Which was coaching football. A sport. He may have had a good positive effect for the kids under his coaching, but his actions over the course of nearly fifteen years show that it was only HIS athletes that he cared about.
He cared nothing for the children who would never see his school as a student.
He cared nothing for the children who were being actively raped by one of his employees, under his watch, on his turf.
King’s article is based on shaming people into feeling bad about our reactions to Joe Paterno's firing. But, Mr. King, here’s the deal: We aren’t Joe Paterno. We didn’t spend fifteen years knowing that a child rapist was walking free, and was still working with children. Apathy is not the same thing as conspiracy. To imply that the two are the same is lazy morality.
I wrote back in November about how the reaction to Joe Paterno’s firing sent the signal that Penn State never was and never will be a safe space for victims or survivors. And, Relevant, in publishing this article, you are sending the message that your website is no longer a safe space for survivors of abuse. Because, apparently, people who don’t spend their life advocating to rescue victims are the same as those who actively protect their abusers.
How dare you.
Instead of shaming your audience over a perfectly normal reaction to the horror that is child abuse, and the horror of discovering that your hero, maybe, just maybe, isn't as heroic as you first thought, you could discuss the issue without trying to guilt your audience. You could discuss the issue without elevating a man whose accomplishments are significantly outweighed by his complicity in covering up crimes.
You are equating apathy with active conspiracy. You are erasing a horrific action, and re-victimizing victims, by informing them that they are no better than the man who made an active decision to allow the abuse to continue.
I like to think you’re better than this, but the decision to go ahead and publish this article shows a lack of compassion for victims, and shows a lack of thought on the part of your editing team. If you wanted to write something about Paterno, write something about Paterno. Don’t write a guilt-trip that erases the very real horrors he ignored.