Sunday, November 13, 2011

If it had been murder- two separate crimes with two separate witnesses- if ten-year-old boys had been disappearing altogether, there would have been police in every corner of the athletic buildings and the rest of the campus.  It wasn’t that kind of murder.  Instead of dialing 911, a janitor and a graduate assistant, on separate occasions, notified their immediate superiors- one some sort of maintenance coordinator and the other the head coach of the university football team.  The head coach reported the crime to the university athletic director, who reported the crime to a university vice-president.
   Eleven years after one witnessed crime and nine years after another, the vice-president and the athletic director resigned and the head football coach and the president of the university were fired shortly afterward. 
    Crimes are overlooked-especially sexual assaults and especially when the perpetrators are pastors, priests, scout leaders, and coaches.  Those who come to know about these crimes look away or look over or look past or close their eyes altogether.  Pastors, priests, scout leaders and coaches are dealt with, if at all, quietly and they often end up finding other victims in other places.  The assistant football coach rapist at the abovementioned university was told that he could no longer bring boys from his youth program to the football building (the scene of the two assaults witnessed by university personnel).
    I could wish that these facts made me angry.  Resentful describes me.  People who have the power to hold others accountable close their eyes in the face of crimes and horror.  I am resentful because I might like to have the poor calm that comes from turning away or closing my eyes.  That calm is not available to everyone.  As sick as it may sound, that fact just doesn’t seem fair.   
    Angry may have to wait for another time, or to wait forever.  In the meantime, I am left with the horror contained in the few words of description of the crimes in newspapers.  The university president, a vice-president, a worshiped football head coach and the athletic director are out.  Perhaps now the university can find some replacements with more integrity, and such horrible things cannot happen here again!  I can feel that fantasy wanting to keep company with me, but I cannot do much more than politely shake its hand.
    Why do these authority figures close their eyes or turn away from evidence of horrible crimes?  There are millions of dollars at stake in university-level sports, and there are millions of dollars at stake in the competition for foundation and endowment funds.  There are all of the costs of scandal to be feared,  and I have no doubt that those considerations affect the head coaches and superiors and bishops of the world. 
    That cannot be all there is to this. 
    How terrible would it have been for the head coach, athletic director, and university president to have stood together at a press conference eleven years or nine years earlier and to have said: “We are horrified by what we have learned.  We are cooperating fully with local and state authorities and we are committed to providing what support we can to the victims of these crimes….”  The head football coach, already worshiped by football fans and others, would have been even more respected.  What a precedent!  What courage!  What integrity! 
    Intelligent people might have come up with that response all those years ago.  They did not.  No one ever called 911- not the janitor, not the janitor’s boss, not the graduate assistant, not the head football coach, not the athletic director, not the vice-president.  This is not confined to one university nor to public institutions.  Eyes are closed every day in the face of terrible crimes. 
   
    Let a startling voice and the brightest light, a God-vision, shine on that failure to report crime.  Enter the commandment against bearing false witness and the negative and positive exhortation: do not merely refrain from gossiping or from telling lies about others- put the best construction on what others say or do or do not do. 
    A compassionate-sounding  “best construction” in the case might be:
    We just do not want to believe that these crimes happen.  It hurts too much to believe that a respected Assistant Coach-Emeritus, a pastor, a priest, a scout leader, can exploit and damage another human in that way…
    Well, it sounds compassionate.  I find more compassion, more solidarity with my fellow humans, as I remember that I am not so much angry as resentful about this ability that some have to pretend that these crimes do not happen or are not so frequent as the evidence suggests or that they cannot be committed by respected people.  Try this best construction:
     We may close our eyes in the face of the most obviously real and most horrible acts that we humans can do to one another.  We close our eyes and imagine that the evil before us will not be there so long as we do not look.  We do this just as we might if we were alone in a dark forest and confronted by an enormous roaring beast.  There is no place to hide, no way to run, nothing to do but keep still, keep as quiet as possible, and keep our eyes shut.
     Is it possible that the respected head football coach, university president, bishop or supervisor can be afraid when confronted by more overwhelming evil than she or he ever imagined to be present in the world?  This possibility feels at least as real as the power of the fear of scandal and the power of the fear of the loss of money or of prestige or of employment.  Once we find ourselves in positions of authority, we will worry about those things, but we may also close our eyes because we’re afraid of what we see and because we do not want to see that we are vulnerable, too.  We close our eyes, and some of us, including the two whom the janitor and the graduate assistant saw being assaulted, are not so able to do that.  Our numbers increase day after day after day. 
    Evil, in this form of the drive to assault a weaker person, seems to see much farther than any of us.  Our fear, and our desperate hope that the evil act, and our vulnerability, will disappear if we close our eyes, results in more room for more and more evil in the form of assaults and of abandonment of victims and of more and bigger lies.  To open our eyes, and to accept our God-given call as witnesses, will mean that we will have to admit that the power of this evil is overwhelming.  Our only truthful response, at that moment, is to fall to our knees and to put out our hands and to ask to be delivered. 
    Sound weak?  Other responses, and other hopes (in the promised “clean house” and integrity of the new staff and administrators, for example) seem to represent partially closed eyes and so more room for more and more evil.  I cannot see this any other way.  The number of us who cannot see this any other way grows every day, and there is room for many, many more.  Welcome to our world.