Life, by its nature, is not fair. For each of us personally, life seems the least fair when tragedy befalls us. There’s no greater personal pain than being betrayed or abused by someone we trust, or losing a loved one. Many of us never get over those things, which is why counseling and therapy is a multi-billion-dollar industry.
There are three things that make recovering from tragedy so tough. One is when there’s no price paid for an injustice. Second, we have a hard time dealing with being wronged when the person who wronged us can’t bring himself to apologize for the grief he’s caused. Finally, while this one’s not always as personal, it’s always difficult to get on with our lives in the midst of tragedy while everything around us keeps going just as it did before.
On the subject of tragedy – in case you didn’t notice, former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky finally was brought to justice on 45 counts of child molestation against 10 boys. This was perhaps the biggest foregone conclusion in the history of United States justice system, for Sandusky’s guilt from the beginning was obvious. The only real question remaining is “How many boys did he actually abuse?” because it’s a virtual certainty that there were more victims who just didn’t come forward.
For Sandusky, it won’t really matter, because the 68-year-old will spend a minimum of 30 years in prison without parole, with the possibility of 60 years total. He’ll never live outside of a prison again. But he could have at least taken a small step by issuing an apology to those whose lives he ruined; instead, he poured acid in those wounds with a statement directly to his accusers:
“I want you to know I don’t forgive you and I don’t know if I will ever forgive you,” he said in a public statement to those who brought the charges. “My only regret is that I didn’t come forward sooner.”
Now, about that third part: thinking of the victims brings to mind a line from the 2010 movie The Company Men, starring Chris Cooper as Phil Woodward, one of several employees who lost his job in corporate downsizing while the CEO remained unaffected. While others who were fired moved on with their lives, Woodward never could; in fact, he eventually committed suicide. Not long before he did, he offered this memorable line to one of his former co-workers:
“You know the worst part? The world didn’t stop. The newspaper still came every morning, the automatic sprinklers went off at six. Jerry next door still washed his car every Sunday. My life ended and nobody noticed.”
I don’t pretend to know for one minute how those boys feel right now, but you have to wonder if the fact that Penn State continues to play football is the most painful thing of all.
Look, there’s no question that Penn State got severely punished by the NCAA. It was fined $60 million, stripped of scholarships, and won’t go to a bowl for four years. Key players like running back Silas Redd left for other programs.
But look at what the Nittany Lions still have: a 4-2 record, and an average attendance of 96,500 people for four home games. Once they tee it up on Saturdays, is anything inside Beaver Stadium much different?
This is not to say that the punishment for the program was necessarily too easy. As I’ve said many times, this case is way too complicated to ever ascertain exactly what the right, or wrong, consequences may be, especially when the punishment is almost 100 percent inflicted on individuals who didn’t do the crime.
But today’s column is about the victims. While they pick up pieces from their broken lives, the world around them in Happy Valley didn’t stop. And so long as football is played on the Penn State campus, those boys are reminded every Saturday of the same lesson: life’s not fair.