See no evil: child trauma research shows us how to never have another Penn State

A few days before former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on child sex abuse charges, and before Graham Spanier, president of Penn State, and long-time Penn State coach Joe Paterno were fired, NBA great Jerry West gave a very

Graham Spanier (l) and Joe Paterno (r)

poignant interview on NPR about his new book: “West By West: My Charmed, Tormented Life.”

When West was a boy, his father beat him and his siblings. “You know, I know what corporal punishment is,” West told NPR host Scott Simon. “This was a lot more than that. And I think that I got to the point in my life where I’d had enough. And I told him one day after an incident with my sister where he had hit her and I just – I said to him, I said if you ever do that again, I am going to kill you. And I slept with a loaded shotgun under my bed.”

Despite Jerry West’s very difficult childhood, he became a success by anyone’s standards. However, as he says, “I can’t forget the things that I saw in my life. I will never forget those days.” He lives with depression. He says he doesn’t know what love is and,

Jerry West, during his L.A. Lakers playing days

remarkably, has little self-esteem. Some people might say that Jerry West had some inner resilience that got him through those bad times. But that inner resilience was nurtured through playing basketball, where he had people who encouraged and mentored him.

So, let’s think about little Jerry West, the 10-year-old, for a moment. Or kids like him — kids who were targets for Sandusky’s charity, The Second Mlle. Those kids were called “disadvantaged”. That’s a euphemism — our society’s code for kids who are living with or have experienced trauma. That trauma can include a parent who has abandoned them, or a parent is an alcoholic or addicted to other drugs, a parent who beats them, verbally abuses them, or neglects them. Or a family member in jail or diagnosed with a mental illness. Or the kids have seen their mom beaten up. And yes, they might even be experiencing sexual abuse at home – that’s much more common than being sexually abused by a coach or a priest. And let’s say that these kids look up to a coach and dream of being a successful athlete, or of just relying on the organization and its adults to obtain some relief from what’s happening at home.

Let’s say that instead of having a supportive coach, West had a coach who sodomized him in the school’s shower room. Would little Jerry West have become an NBA star, or would that have been one trauma too many? Would his career have ended early because he drank himself into a stupor to stop the nightmares? Or would he have been unable to control his anger, beat up people at the slightest provocation and ended up a career criminal?

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: