Penn State and Colorado: Can’t Handle the Truth

Penn State and Colorado: Can’t Handle the Truth


In two tragedies, the swirling news cycles of each crashing back to back, we see lack of any real discussion on root issues.  The tragedy in Aurora, Colorado certainly deserves the usual national outrage, shock and sadness, but it seems as if the national conversation is afraid to get into it about gun control.  Cross the continent into State College, Pennsylvania, and there is little talk about child sex abuse, much less even child abuse in general.  The cast on that set is all about football.

As American as the Second Amendment is an innate fear of digging for any real truth of what just happened.  Some point to simple public politeness or courtesy out of respect for the victims – but just how long does the mourning cycle take before we can bring it up?  Others point to a general unwillingness to point out our own cultural flaws as a nation, to admit that we let it slip in the first place.  And there are the cynical few who recognize a general victimization of candor, the all-out war against the outspoken and the normally popular neutering of those who dare examine what the rest of us would rather ignore.

Thanks to James Holmes, already setting up his insanity defense, we’ll be more transfixed by his Shaggy-like looks and orange-dyed hair than we will by the actual deed.  Notably absent from that pre-occupation with Holmes jump into mental abyss is the gun control argument.  Opponents of gun control will say it’s too early to talk about it, the wounds to raw; proponents are slowly coming out, but the pop culture silence on the discussion is a bit jarring.

Neither the president nor his challenger has mentioned gun control, tragically for good tactical reason.  The gun rights lobby is an unapologetic and natural core of the Republican Party’s base, so GOP nominee Mitt Romney can’t go Massachusetts on this even if he wants to.  And the National Rifle Association, the largest and most powerful of gun rights organizations, has already put enormous political pressure on the incumbent President Barack Obama, spending nearly $113,000 in independent expenditures against him in 2012 according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  He’s only second to ousted Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), a moderate Indiana Republican the lobby spent nearly $180,000 to finish.

Cautious against re-entering the debate over his “clinging onto guns, religion” comments from 2008, President Obama fears rattling that tree anytime soon in an election this close.  Why give more ammunition to those gun-owning, degree-less White working class voters to vote against you?

At Penn State, it’s all about the football and less about how exactly an entire institution ignored glaring signs of child molestation for so many years.  There is no political lobby advocating child abuse in the same way the NRA advocates mass gun use.  But, there is wholesale embarrassment and horror, from university trustees outraged about who knew what when to those janitors who are probably re-evaluating their fear from years ago.  Questions will linger for weeks then simmer then re-emerge during football season when the Nittany Lions head onto the field.  Were the penalties too harsh?  Should the NCAA have went ahead and shut down the program?  It seems interesting that the last college football “death penalty” of Southern Methodist University involved indiscretions far less egregious than the evil of child sex abuse.

With the Jerry Sandusky trial over, there is little inclination to talk about the lifetime bruises of the molestation victims.  There are no headlines or trending topics prompting that talk.  Now, we talk of victimized Penn State students suffering from 13 years of vacated wins, broken post-seasons and lost scholarships.  All eyes on the bruised pride of Happy Valley and the tarnished legend of Joe Paterno.

Yes, it is saddening that actual students and players will suffer for the sins of the institution.  But, the apparent lack of collective campus contrition, in which students appear to sob more about lost games than stolen innocence, is a bit striking. Did they really learn?  And, did society really pull anything from this?  Have we found a remedy to our national Bystander Effect?  Hence, the real victims will remain nameless. What could have kicked off a needed and meaningful policy discussion will fade away into the next tragedy.