Friday, November 11, 2011

A Memory of Sports, Sex and Shame

The Penn State Scandal has many losers—-not the only the legendary coach who lost his job, his reputation and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the university that fed on football and is now disgraced by it, a student body in shock and, beyond the campus, millions who have lost some of their innocence about an “amateur” game that, as years of covering up the crimes of a pedophile coach show, has more in common with corporate rather than academic ethics.

Yet there is nothing new in the use of sports to prey on children, perhaps only the fact that prosecutors and the public are less willing to be accomplices in overlooking such behavior.

It all brings back a pre-teen memory of 75 years ago when my friends and I tried to play ball on a scraggly Bronx diamond but never had enough equipment to field two full teams.

We got help from a man everyone called Unk. He was short and muscular, his tan round face punctuated by a pencil mustache and small steel-rimmed eyeglasses. He acted like an uncle, bringing a canvas bag filled with softballs, bats and gloves, running the games we played until darkness dimmed the batting cage and base paths.

His manner was brisk and impersonal, like a teacher or coach. We were awed by his skills and took to heart his sharp comments on our fumbling efforts.

So it came as a pleasant surprise when he invited another 11-year-old boy and me to a Saturday afternoon movie. Half an hour after we were seated on either side of him in the dark, I was startled to find Unk’s hand in my lap. I took hold and politely pushed it away. But the hand came back and began groping. I got up and ran out of the theater. Confused and ashamed, I never told anyone. After that, I stayed away from Unk’s games.

Now, amid all the gabble about Penn State, even the fatuous need by some to identify themselves as parents (as if that were a requirement to be outraged), I don’t begrudge the pleasure of the more than 100,000 who will fill the stadium Saturday, but they may want to realize that there is a social surcharge on the price of their tickets.

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