Saturday, November 19, 2011

Football and Father Fixations

Having graduated from Penn State (now derisively called State Penn) in 1980, I chimed in on a listserve with several dozen of my sorority sisters from the 70s, who still get together for Homecoming games.

Rather than address the fundamental issues at hand, the messages were all about damage control. Almost immediately after the news hit, one woman, who works in public relations at another University, suggested all give donations to anti-child-abuse organizations in the name of Penn State. Another posted a story about current matriculates from our chapter handing out blue ribbons, the color of child abuse victims and one of PSU’s colors, before the game. One alum sent flowers to the chapter.

My pleas to reevaluate our nation’s fixation with seeing a piece of pigskin move down a patch of land fell on deaf ears. I wrote in that every time I tell people I went to Penn State, all they want to hear about is the football team and Paterno. Is that all an educational institution is supposed to be about? I asked. Is the welfare of children really secondary to who wins the game?

I brought up Noam Chomsky’s book “Manufacturing Consent," theorizing that the elites in society need to have their consent manufactured for government policies, but the vast majority just need to get distracted. Sports, which doubles as "an exercise in radical jingoism," is one of the distractions. But everyone watched the game anyway. Rah.

A week later, Paterno’s son leaked the news that his father had a treatable form of lung cancer. This prompted my sisters to suggest we all write letters of support to our “Italian grandfather.” Missed was the news that Pennsylvania Rep. Louise Williams Bishop (pictured) had just introduced a bill requiring anyone with knowledge of a sex crime against children to report it to the police, not just a supervisor.

In a press conference announcing the bill, Bishop outed herself as a childhood sexual abuse victim. Inspired by her courage, I did the same on the listserve. Like the victims Bishop spoke of in her announcement, I too have struggled with earning a living, and while reconciling my past, I missed out on marriage and family too.

Just like the Catholic church scandal, to me what was worse than the abuse itself was the fact that those in positions of authority allowed it to continue, increasing the victim count. The beloved Paterno is almost certainly guilty of this.

I asked my sisters to think on this quote by Arthur Rimbaud: "He who is legend in his own time is ruled by that legend. It may begin in absolute innocence. But, to cover up flaws and maintain the myth of Divine power, one has to call on desperate measures."

How many innocents had their lives ruined by Paterno's desperate measures? I asked. How many in the Catholic church? And how many women propped up these pathetic patriarchal institutions, and continue to do so? Why? Because we think a Santa Claus/Yahweh/father figure will save us from our own mortality? By winning a football game?

I volunteered at a rape crisis center as part of my healing, and the calls were very often from those who were just starting to deal with abuse they had suffered as children. It can scar a life. I asked my sisters to write their letters of support to their elected representatives in support of Bishop's bill, which has been opposed by the Catholic church.

I am, as Al Green sings, “blessed in the service of my savior”: the plant teachers who opened my mind to a childhood memory I had suppressed in my subconscious mind. Maybe if my sisters weren’t drinking their brains out at football games every week and were instead using something more enlightening for recreation, they would understand. Marijuana is Safer.

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