Thursday, November 10, 2011

Young Victims Matter Much More Than Penn State’s Reputation (November 11, 2011)

  Two popular phrases came to mind when I heard about the Penn State sex scandal: “When you see something say something” and “Whatever happens at Penn State stays at Penn State.” The former had not yet come into vogue when the campus incident reportedly took place. And the latter, of course, substitutes the Big Ten school for Vegas, but is quite suitable for the outrage over events at the respectable university.
How could implicated coaches and college executives not earnestly explore a report of an assistant coach seen with a naked, young boy in a school locker room?  After one coach apparently told others he saw something, why didn’t someone call local police?
It is alleged that in 2002 assistant Penn State football coach Mike McQueary witnessed the sodomizing of an 11-year-old boy in the shower, by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky has been charged with several counts of sexual assaults against boys he met through a charity he established to help kids from broken homes; a gross violation of fundamental trust any parent can give another adult.
According to reports, instead of intervening and stopping the abuse or going to police, McQueary went to head coach Joe Paterno. The coach, who, until he was fired this week, helmed the Nittany Lions varsity football team for 46 years, did what he felt obligated to, according to an AP story, and went up the university chain of command. He notified his immediate superior, athletic director Tim Curley, who apprised vice president Gary Schultz and then-university president Graham Spanier. Nevertheless, all three failed to meet even the minimum standard expected of anyone in a position of authority — notify the police.
The only decision they supposedly reached, after McQueary told them what he saw, was to prohibit Sandusky from bringing children onto the campus.
Yes, even after they heard what someone saw Sandusky allegedly do, it seems they casually and inappropriately sanctioned that terrible behavior — as long as it occurred off campus.
And that is the upsetting focal point of the scandal and why Penn State deserves to be penalized — on and off the gridiron.
The cover-up shows a shameful failure of leadership, as well as disregard to an obligation to report any claim of child abuse. School officials may have compounded that neglect in order to preserve the integrity of the school and its respected football program. But maybe, just maybe, if those responsible had not let their minds be overruled by a distorted sense of duty and contacted law enforcement, other boys may have been spared subsequent abuse.
According to several reports, Curley and Schultz not only allegedly failed to report claims of Sandusky’s indecent acts, but, later, also lied about it to a grand jury.
Now, years later, the matter is an embarrassment that tarnishes the venerable reputation of the university, as well as that of its beloved veteran head coach.
How can anyone neglect an accusation of child molestation by an adult? And how shocking was it this week to see hundreds of Penn State students, blinded by Paterno’s prominence, riot over the coach’s dismissal? They ignored the central detail that protecting children from sexual abuse trumps football. Would any of them have reacted in the same way if a son, brother or nephew was a victim of a coach’s abuse?
A sidebar to the scandal, which is not nearly as crucial as the alleged child molestations that led to the dismissal of the legendary football coach and university president, is the mounting fiscal domino effect.
Tens of millions of dollars in annual profits are at stake. According to CNNMoney, Penn State had revenues over $70 million during the 2010 football season, which was fifth among national college programs. The Athletic Department took home another $24 million that came mostly from merchandise sales and sponsorships.
Anticipated donations and scholarships are expected to take a severe hit, too. The latter could reduce opportunities at the school for needy students that could reverberate for years until Penn State’s reputation is re-established.
John Surma, a member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, promised that “we are committed to restoring public trust to our university.”
But before Penn State’s governing board tackles the effects of the fallout from the scandal and how it will change the university’s honor and moral standing, it must be much more concerned with the well-being of the victims. A college and its football program are of little consequence when compared to the vulnerable young boys, whose lives endured a heinous experience and, much more likely, immeasurable emotional damage.
When the Penn State hierarchy learned of the abuse, they should have said something to authorities. Furthermore, what happened at Penn State should not have stayed at Penn State for so long.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fulfilling My Dream of Running the NYC Marathon (November 6, 2003)

After years of sitting at home and watching the New York Marathon, I decided to give it a try in 2003. Then last Sunday morning, as I watched the women start the 26-mile, 385-yard course through all five boroughs, my anxiety mounted as I stood surrounded by tens of thousands of runners, knowing I’d soon join them dashing across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that connects Staten Island to Brooklyn.
As I waited, I began jumping in place to diminish the jitters and reminisced about what it took to get me there.
A week before Thanksgiving 2002, I contacted the Road Runners Club, which organizes the marathon, and asked if they could give this out-of-condition beginner (who rarely ran since I was a kid, except to the mess hall at chow time in the Army) some advice about how to prepare for the 2003 event. They gave me the names of several trainers, including one who lived in my Brooklyn neighborhood. After playing telephone tag for a few days, we hooked up after Thanksgiving weekend.
The first thing Marcus — the trainer — told me was to radically change my diet and establish an exercise routine that would have to gradually intensify. For a nominal fee, he agreed to train me for three months. He said if I met his expectations and adhered to strict dietary rules, he’d work with me through the following summer to make sure I was prepared for the arduous task that few even dare to consider.
In our initial meeting he was curious why I wanted to do this at this stage in my life. I told him I didn’t really know because despite being moderately active in my youth and maintaining a random walking regimen the last few years, I wasn’t the athletic type — in mind or body. It was, rather, something about which I fantasized every fall.
At first the training and diet were almost unbearable, but I found the challenge and changes invigorating. If I accomplished this, I thought, maybe — just maybe — I could start the novel that I’ve aspired to write.
Two weeks into the regimen, my body felt different — aching, somewhat rejuvenated, but strange. Marcus encouraged me and said I was doing well. Those who saw me frequently — friends, co-workers — may have noticed a change, but they never said a word.
When the training period ended, Marcus never said a word and kept working with me. By then I’d managed to start running five miles a day, three times a week in nearby Marine Park. I still had a long way to go, but even this was remarkable for this part-time couch potato.
When summer began, Marcus enrolled me in several mini-marathons around the city so I could experience an actual race atmosphere. I barely finished most of them, until mid-July, when I completed a 10-mile race in Eisenhower Park on Long Island. I finally gained the confidence that I could do this.
The man next to me interrupted my thoughts and asked if this was my first NYC marathon. I nodded and he said it was also his. He asked me if I wanted a marathon partner. I agreed. We exchanged names and shook hands.
As we reached Mile 4 in Brooklyn, a bunch of friends, from as far away as Baltimore and Albany, loudly cheered me on. I looked at them and waved then got my head back in the race.
By Mile 10, my running partner realized he couldn’t keep up and wished me luck.
More than six hours after I crossed the Verrazano, the Central Park finish line was in sight. Yet it still seemed miles away. Nevertheless, I was energized realizing I had the stamina to complete the 26-mile course. My legs were as heavy as anvils. My body was drenched in perspiration, partly due to the unseasonable weather. My body ached from head to toe. But my heart and mind were euphoric.
I got a last minute boost from friends, who managed to squeeze in a mile from the finish line; once again giving me thunderous, vocal support.
I glanced at them, smiled and raised my hands in Rocky-like triumph. As I crossed the finish line minutes later, I was a bit startled when I heard what sounded like an alarm After crossing the line, I collapsed on the concrete and closed my eyes, when I felt someone drape a foil blanket around me so my body heat didn’t dissipate too quickly.
I heard the alarm again and when I opened my eyes I realized I was in my bed in Brooklyn.
My marathon race had merely been an exhilarating fantasy.
Maybe next year? Nah, but, a guy can dream, can’t he?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Some Musings about Creatures Great and Small (Feb. 5, 2009)

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! That's what Dorothy, Scarecrow and Tinman were worried about on the way to the Emerald City as they ambled through the creepy forest before encountering the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz."
Recently, there have been news reports about horses and elephants and geese. Those species are a heckuva lot cuter and some people think they need to be better protected.
I like some animals and I frequently watch nature TV shows and movies, and, once in a while tune in to the Animal Planet channel. However, my up-close-and-personal contact with domestic pets has been few and far between.
Years ago, I briefly adopted two abandoned street kittens. I was forced to give them away six months later when I discovered I was VERY allergic to felines and they aggravated my asthma.
I used to love to go horseback riding when there were stables in Bergen Beach, but soon found out they also affected my allergies.
After the recent ditching of the U.S. Air jetliner in the Hudson River, which was apparently caused when a flock of Canadian geese got sucked into the plane’s engines, resulting in their failure, some state lawmakers proposed creating a geese reduction program.
While PETA and other animal rights groups were dismayed by the plan, which could include an effort to humanely reduce the fowl population near local airports. Some gun advocates, undoubtedly would like nothing better than the opportunity to shoot the migrating geese, which stopover here on their way south for the winter, out of the sky. (The internal GPS of the geese may be out of whack this year since they seem be lingering in the dead of winter, instead of heading to warmer southern climes.)
Last week, a Queens City Councilman chaired a hearing to call for a ban of horse-drawn carriages in Central Park, reviving the same prohibition he sponsored two years ago after a horse was killed in a collision with a car. He and a local animal rights group, call it "oppressive and inhumane treatment" of the animals, including an eight-hour workday and terrible stable conditions. (Probably not fit for pigs either.) He also cited an increase in the number of accidents (seven) involving the equines over the last 18 months, adding that those were "the only ones we know about," obviously implying others are never made public.
I agree with the protesters, though it's unlikely there'll ever be a law to ban them. Though it's kind of cruel to see carriage drivers lose their job in this bleak economy, it’s even crueler to think of horses pulling carriages around Manhattan simply for the enjoyment of a handful of tourists and couples seeking a brief romantic memory. It wouldn't be much of a loss to the city's economy (there are less than six dozen now operating) and the animals could be put out to pasture for their remaining years, while the horsemen might try driving tourists around in licensed taxicabs, which can be brutal on 12-hour shifts in congested Manhattan traffic.
While we're on the subject of horses, this year's Budweiser ad with the majestic Clydesdale horses was once again selected as the best in a survey of viewers who responded to a poll about commercials during Sunday's Super Bowl. It's highly doubtful anyone would object to those ads, unless someone actually believes the beer conglomerate hitches the iconic equines to a wagon to deliver its product.
What would the circus be without elephants? After eight years of legal battles that's exactly what's being debated this week in a Florida courtroom before a federal judge in a suit brought by a collation of animal rights groups, including the ASPCA, against the venerable Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus.
In a situation similar to the carriage horses, protesters claim the iconic Asian elephants are kept in cramped, filthy quarters and are routinely prodded with "bull hooks" (a wooden or fiberglass club with a steel hook on one end) that sometimes leave them with bloody sores. They are seeking an injunction barring the circus from engaging in "certain cruel practices," including chaining the animals for long periods, based on the Endangered Species Act, which does not apply to animals in captivity.
Naturally, circus owners deny all charges and insist the elephants are "healthy and well cared for," and under watchful eyes of veterinarians 24/7, and are asking the judge to dismiss the case.
They also said the elephants are a favorite attraction, but audiences never see what goes on behind the scenes. I once witnessed celebrated circus trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams kick and slap a Bengal tiger backstage while working at Madison Square Garden. I presumed the docile animal may have been drugged or it would have torn him to pieces. Nonetheless, I was startled, so I can imagine what happens to the elephants.
In minor animal protest on Monday, radio talk show host Don Imus blasted practically everyone involved in the annual Groundhog Day ritual in Pennsylvania. The curmudgeon ranted about how Punxsutawney Phil is drugged to make him come out of his hole for the ceremony.
I'd never previously heard that complaint and doubt it's factual because, you know, animal lovers would be all over it every February 2nd.
Heck, it's not like they yank the woodchuck from its burrow. The little renowned rodent probably comes out to see what the fuss is all about!
Nevertheless, the world's most famous groundhog saw his shadow, predicting, as legend has it, that this unusually cold winter will last six more weeks. This year it may also mean another six months (more or less, I hope) of a badly bruised economy!
In contrast, when Chuck, the Staten Island Zoo groundhog, failed to emerge on his own in the local ritual, Mayor Bloomberg reached into the rodent's shelter and pulled him out for waiting the media and onlookers. The annoyed 10-pound creature promptly bit Hizzoner on the hand, piercing a leather glove. Fair is fair, the mayor took a bite out of the zoo's funding in recently announced budget cuts.
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." Mahatma Gandhi — Hindu spiritual leader.