I don’t want to write about this. But I feel like I have to.
Larry Nassar – a man who has pled guilty to sexually abusing his patients, some as young as 6 years old – was sentenced to a lifetime in prison last week. That was then followed up by multiple ESPN reports that Nassar’s behavior was enabled by Michigan State administrators, and that the athletic department allegedly has a culture of downplaying accusations of violence against women.
But Michigan State’s athletic culture is hardly alone. Anybody shocked by these allegations hasn’t been paying attention.
There was the recent scandal at Baylor, where the University decided it wouldn’t disclose who did what but dismissed athletic director Ian McCaw, head coach Art Briles and following the season, his entire staff.
There was the scandal at Florida State involving Jameis Winston, where FSU ignored Title IX reporting requirements egregiously enough that they decided to pay Winston’s alleged victim $950,000 to drop her lawsuit.
And there was the Antonio Callaway scandal last season at Florida, where the school decided it was a good idea to have a Gators football booster oversee Callaway’s student conduct code committee hearing.
And on and on it goes. A lawsuit against Tennessee – subsequently settled for $2.5 million – claims the university gave athletes accused of sexual assault preferential treatment. Louisville was allegedly hiring prostitutes to lure recruits to campus. And of course, there was the Jerry Sandusky saga at Penn State.
There is one thing that each of these scandals has in common. Good people doing the bare minimum (or less) while the processes in place failed the victims. In some cases, the processes in place to deal with the issues were woefully inadequate. But even in cases where the processes in place were good enough, the willful ignorance of people who could have stopped the abusers is staggering.
But based on history, maybe it shouldn’t be.
There is quite a bit of evidence that the German people knew horrible things were being done to Jewish people during World War II despite claims to the contrary. Historian Lord Dahrendorf, former warden of St. Antony’s College, Oxford said this in his study, Society and Democracy in Germany:
It is certainly true that most Germans ‘did not know’ about National Socialist crimes of violence; nothing precise, that is, because they did not ask any questions.
There will be calls in the wake of the revelations at Michigan State for reforms to the processes that are in place. It appears as though federal oversight will be significant, ensuring that additional levels of checks will be put in place to ensure that this will “never happen again.”
But regardless of all of the apologies, reforms and well-meaning platitudes, it keeps happening.
So maybe the solution isn’t to blame the process. Maybe instead the solution involves admitting some tough truths.
The first of those is that those of us who consider ourselves good people may have to admit that the people who looked the other way aren’t evil. Neither were the German citizens who stuck their head in the sand. They’re just like us.
Given the right circumstances it would be just as easy for us to ignore calls for help. Not by actively ignoring those calls, but by not asking the necessary questions to truly understand the gravity of what is happening.
The women who came forward in the Nassar case – just like the children who came forward in the Sandusky case – are human beings. They deserve that those of us who purport to care about them treat them as human beings, special because they are made in the image of God, not as a scandal to cover up or an inconvenient part of a football coach’s legacy.
This is true regardless of the victim’s race, color, national or ethnic origin, ancestry, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender. In each case, someone else’s failure to see the inherent value possessed by the victim is the opening for a monster like Nassar or Sandusky to sneak in.
This isn’t going to be solved by a change in process. A process forces the people implementing it to weigh the loss of humanity versus the cost of admitting that the abuse happened. Clearly that calculation has not been working in the victim’s favor thus far.
It is only going to be changed by getting close enough to feel the pain of the victims.
There are victims out there who need you to provide them with support, to listen to them, to believe them and believe in them. You may not be able to make your administration change. You may not have the funds to support an advocacy program. But you can make a one-on-one connection with someone who is hurting.
Because unfortunately we know there will be more victims. And unfortunately we also know that those who are charged with protecting them will continue to fail to do so.
We know that’s true because Ian McCaw – Baylor’s former AD – is now the AD at Liberty University. Kendall Briles – Art Briles son and offensive coordinator at Baylor – was hired as the offensive coordinator at FAU last year and was just hired as Houston’s offensive coordinator. Over and over, we see this pattern.
So it might feel good to see Michigan State’s basketball coach Tom Izzo or football coach Mark Dantonio resign amid all of these allegations. But if they are forced out and want to coach again, they’ll get a second chance.
Make no mistake, I am not advocating for no penalties for people responsible. I want them to be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.
But that’s not how this begins to change.
Instead, the true power to make change lies in one person reading this and reaching out to help one other person who has been victimized. Because they do have inherent value. And they are worth your time. And because at some point you will be put in a position that makes you weigh a person’s humanity versus your own ambitions and your organization’s goals.
And I pray that your one-on-one experiences would change your heart such that you would have the wisdom and power to prevent ever letting the monster sneak in.