Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

Author's Note: Joe Paterno was fired as Penn State's football coach on Wednesday November 9, 2011.

Joe Paterno died Sunday January 22, 2012. He was eighty five years old and lived, for most of his life, like a king.

My mother received her early death sentence, melanoma in her lymph system, when she was 35. She died when she was 44. I was seventeen. Since then, I've respected the dead and their families, and focus on their contributions and accomplishments when they pass.

Thus, I off lined this blog when I learned Joe Paterno died. It's critical of him and his avoidance response when knowing his former prized assistant, Jerry Sandusky, was seen sodomizing a young boy in the Penn State Football Complex showers.

I worked with Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky as a graduate assistant football coach. I am also a survivor of early childhood assault outside of my home.

Multitudes of great football players like Franco Harris, Lydell Mitchell, Jack Ham, Curt Warner, Shane Conlin, Blair Thomas, and John Cappalletti reinforced their very positive identities via their experience with Joe and Penn State.

I have the highest admiration for their skills and for Penn State University and I acknowledge the influence Joe had on his football team's performance and his players' graduation rates.

Joe deserves credit for influencing his players' athletic and academic achievements.

Joe must also be held accountable for having the counter opposite influence on the young boys he did not protect from Jerry's predatory behavior by not reporting Jerry to the state police as soon as Joe was aware.

When great or egregious acts are committed in an organization, they are a reflection on the person in charge.

Joe Paterno was in charge of Penn State Football long enough to accumulate the all times D1 wins record.

He was also in charge while Jerry's devious behavior destroyed young mens' souls spanning, at least, a fifteen year time period. "A fish stinks from its head".

As we praise Joe as a football coach, for funneling young male aggression on the field and in life, we must also accept the truth.

Joe's conduct also allowed appalling acts of sexual aggression against young and innocent children.

I pray for Joe's soul. I also pray for the souls of the young boys Jerry Sandusky traumatized.

Survivors have the choice to be strong and to stop the abuse cycle. They need constructive intervention, our support, and blessings. The following is written to help them overcome. - Matt, January 26, 2012.

As many of you know, I worked as a graduate assistant offensive line coach at PSU.

Many great young men played on our offensive line, including Steve Wisniewski who went on to an incredible NFL career and now coaches the Oakland Raiders' offensive line with my line coach when I played at Brown, Bob Wylie.

As most of you don't know, I also suffered through an abusive early childhood outside of my home. It is very difficult to share, but warranted given this unique opportunity to help survivors and to stop predators and those institutions and people who help perpetuate this evil.

My experience with these issues gives me a unique perspective to comment on the horrific situation unveiling itself in Happy Valley.

Joe was the reigning Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year and national championship coach when I worked for him. He was considered, and acted, like God and was beyond reproach in the locals' minds.

Based on what I know about predators, Jerry's deviance didn't start when it was observed and reported in the 1990's.

If he is a serial pedophile, as long as he's been around kids there's a probable chance he's been assaulting them. I never observed Jerry committing sexual misconduct.

My goal is to bring to light how deceptive, selfish, narcissistic people and organizations can cultivate environments where evil lurks. This is to help you better understand the horrific behavior Jerry Sandusky is accused of perpetrating and the just as egregious apparent cover up perpetrated by Joe Paterno and PSU's administration.

More important, I hope I can offer some comfort and peace to not only Jerry's purported survivors, but to the multitudes of powerless and disadvantaged kids who are abused by evil people and institutions disguising themselves as helpers. I want to offer some direction and hope to survivors.

Life gets better!

I was a low ranking graduate assistant offensive line coach at PSU in 1987 and 1988 on the heels of PSU's second, and last, national championship.

Prior to this, I played and coached at Brown and had a few NFL tryouts. I also had a very unique hs football experience where I co-captained the top ranked team in NJ, and was the sole three year starter for three undefeated state championship teams.

Many of my hs teammates received scholarships to DI programs including to Penn State and Michigan. My mother succumbed to her 8 year battle with melanoma during my senior hs season. I was recruited by all the Ivies, service academies, and I received several DI scholarship offers.

I am also a survivor of early childhood sexual abuse. I was fortunate. I grew young, stopped the predator, and got the help I needed. I have worked hard as an adult to overcome this and to remain whole, to receive peace and joy in life, and by privately helping others overcome their traumas and losses.

Survivors have the choice and free will to not repeat the cycle of sexual abuse.

I pursued coaching out of college to help kids like my high school coach, Ted Monica at Madison High School, and sports helped me overcome a traumatic childhood. I was awarded graduate assistant scholarships to coach at the two more coveted programs at the time; Penn State and at the University of Washington with admired coach Don James.

It's reprehensible if the coaches I worked with at Penn State thrust and or allowed comparable trauma on innocent kids. I believed sports, and good coaches, are intended to help people actualize their potential, to overcome adversity.

These folks demonstrated evil if these accusations are true.

My time in Happy Valley was great regarding my classes, but not as happy regarding the football program. The players were exceptional. I was a sincere graduate student, studying CAD in the engineering and architecture departments.

The coaches, including Paterno, projected a holier than thou academic image, but they demanded their players and coaches prioritize football 24/7.

I experienced Joe Paterno as a racist when he stated Pennsylvania was not ready for an African American quarterback while Randall Cunningham started for the Eagles. He was the consummate bully and control freak who motivated with fear and banished players and their potential careers when they did not buy into Joe's persona.

Joe's infamous "doghouse" was relegated to players, and maybe coaches, who shared the same transgressions as Joe's favorite players, and maybe coaches, but who did not fit Joe's perception as to who and what constituted Penn State football. Joe derailed careers and earnings when a player did not fit his narrow vision. He played God. If the allegations of Jerry's transgressions are true, he and Joe will be in God's doghouse; Matthew 18:5.

He appeared to be more critical and hostile towards African American players than to white players. I remember him attacking black players in front of others more frequently than him yelling at white players. Joe suspected a black defensive back was on drugs and gave the team a mandatory urine test.

This type of team self policing always made it to the press to further reinforce Joe's clean image and reputation. However, the public never knew the only player observed submitting a sample was the African American defensive back. This was discriminatory and racist. Other players were allowed to take their tests in their apartments and return them to the medical staff. We joked the players were drug free, but some were pregnant.

Another time the great Rosey Grier visited the staff meeting room while we were all meeting. He shook hands with everyone hands and shared pleasantries with Joe and the staff. The minute he left the room, Joe called him lazy and an athlete who played like a dog against inferior opponents. The statement seemed out of place and vindictive, but reinforced Joe's perceptions and left hand column, or true feelings.

Overall, I saw Joe as a master spin doctor whose image shed a far greater shadow than his actual character. I was reminded of these when, in the early 90's after a loss to Texas, he said he was going to "go home and beat my wife".

Often when stressed, like Joe after this loss, a person will blurt out the truth, or his true feelings. One's true feelings are termed the "left hand column" by Harvard Professor Chris Argyris. The "right hand column" represents the actual words someone states.

The dysfunction in an organization is directly proportional to the size of its members' left hand columns. When no one feels safe sharing the truth, or knows sharing it is not appropriate, issues will harbor until there is a huge blow up. Again, it appears the "right hand column" brand used to portray Penn State's image, and fostered by Joe Paterno, hid his program's considerable, ugly and truthful, "left hand column".

Perhaps the awkward statement Joe made after the loss to Texas, a statement making everyone who heard it cringe, revealed another ugly truth. Joe backed out of the assertion, but, if true, fits a bully's profile and a leader who would not address and terminate abuses of power, like child molestation, in his own organization.

The parallels between Joe's kingdom; the unquestioned power and control he wielded over his minions, the knowledge he gathered about every piece of his program, and the very lax and deceptive response he made in 2002 after being informed his former prized assistant Jerry Sandusky, who maintained approved access to the football and athletic facilities where internal documents filed years earlier outlined Jerry's similar inappropriate sexual conduct with a young boy, was seen sodomizing a child in the showers, and the Catholic Church's power, control, and deceit in covering up its massive sexual abuse scandal are striking, yet not surprising to me.

Joe and his coaching staff, like a Bishop and his Priests, received unquestioned devotion and loyalty from believers who thought the organization stood for something right. Joe, like a Bishop's miter and crux, wore special clothes (khakis, oxfords, ties, blazers, black football shoes, white sox) to distinguish himself from his staff and followers.

Clothes reflecting status played a significant role at Penn State for coaches and players under Joe Paterno. The bland, striking blue and white uniforms are similar to the plain, black and white priest robes. Only certain shirts, sweatshirts, polyester pants, and sox could be worn by assistant coaches. On my first day on the field, I was asked to switch sweatshirts as the first sweatshirt I wore contained too much cotton. The coloring was not right for Joe. Players had to wear sox, no sweatpants, and only shirts with collars when in class or on campus.

Physical and structural appearances have been very important at PSU football and in the Catholic Church. The stadium is like a cathedral. The devoted worship statues. Those in charge project humble devotion to stated principles. A Bishop's and his Priests' public adulation and admiration mirrored the unchecked adulation the public showered onto Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, and the football staff. This reinforced their power and control as players and fans strove for approval and belonging.

Joe's authority, like a Bishop's, was never questioned. Everyone wanted their approval and acceptance. Joe and Catholic Church leaders were able to use this perceived humility, masking a truer air of superiority, as a free pass to mask ruthless aggression and drive for power.

Joe's drive towards the all time D1 wins record was Machiavellian. He stepped over young boys' souls. He motivated his players to maim themselves for the sake of the team, but really for the sake of Joe's record. He recruited and started players with the fourth highest total of criminal offenses in NCAA DI football over the last ten years of Joe's career. These misjudgments hurt the long term well being of the PSU football program. Joe did not care. He put his own goal ahead of the well being of children, players, the program, and the university.

Joe and Jerry are like corrupt Bishops and Priests who covered up the church's massive sexual abuse scandal, who steal from the church, and who wear clothes intended to reflect virtue to mislead and deceive loyal followers.

In addition to the Catholic Church, the PSU scandal is somewhat analogous to NASA's tragic failures. Everyone in NASA's reporting structure trusted their quality assessment system would not allow a Shuttle design failure. They were also expected to comply rather than empowered to think independently. They were afraid to step up and take ownership to report and correct defects.

In both the NASA and PSU cases, this lack of empowerment led to tragedy. At NASA, political and financial pressures to launch the Shuttle on time outweighed the consideration to further test and evaluate the o rings and tiles. This led to astronaut deaths. At Penn State, the death of young souls took a back seat to Joe's pursuing his all time wins record, his and the football team's image, and the university's reputation.

The inability to recognize the truth, or facts and behaviors contradicting one's perception of an organization or culture is deemed by academics as "selective" or "subjective" perception. This concept suggests immature people in a group setting see only what they want to see, or are taught to see. They accept and acknowledge behaviors supporting their definition or the organization's culture; it's values as depicted by beliefs and behaviors.

Mature, rational, objective, and realistic people can distinguish facts from opinions. College campuses are loaded with young people who buy into perceptions. They do not have yet the maturity to distinguish distortions, according to this theory.

Deviant adults can manipulate this immaturity to fulfill their own selfish, twisted desires; to attempt to control and to influence the beliefs of the young people to support their misguided adults' views rather than the truth. It's what bad leaders or professors or coaches do and it appears to be what happened at PSU.

When a despot or highly competitive person rules, his goals supersede relationships. Any conflict is responded to in a competing manner, where the person in charge must get his way. Ultimately, good people leave, or work around the leader. Yes men stay. This is what happens in totalitarian governments, and it's what happened at the PSU football program.

The immediate response to the crisis in the shower was to avoid to buy time to respond and to compete to keep the system rolling towards Joe's record, to reinforce Joe's perceived greatness. It was a passive / aggressive response. There was no immediate consideration for the assaulted child.

Even though he did not respond immediately to protect the child, the graduate assistant did distinguish the truth from the mantra he'd been fed since he was a child growing up in State College and shared his observations. It is not easy to break even misguided cultural values. However, his adult supervisors sat on it. This delay led to more assaults.

Selective or subjective perception might also be a fancy term for lying, or narcissism, or selfishness, or manipulation.

Also, the Johari Window (please find this defined in the following blog entitled "The Black Box")shows what one knows about oneself compared to what others know. The PSU Football program hid much, and had severe blind spots. This reflects a total lack of institutional checks and transparency. At best, the delayed response suggests Joe Paterno did not have the moral capacity (a blind spot) to distinguish and report the inappropriate behaviors perpetrated by Sandusky. At worst, the delay indicates Joe's and Penn States intentional cover up (hidden secrets)of child rape.

An independent, credible, and reputable third party must investigate PSU with a very big mirror and magnifying glass to assess what fostered the hidden secrets and blindspots. In similar cases, these are based in in the leader's need for power, misleading metrics, and poor institutional controls.

I worked on the other side of the ball from Jerry, but found him very talented with kids, albeit a bit more grabby and touchy with the many young kids surrounding him during camps and those visiting from his not for profit program, The Second Mile. It appeared he had boundary issues. Memories of this now make my stomach queasy.

He reminded me of a former celebrated boy scout leader from my home town of Madison, NJ. Warren Wheeler displayed two classic grooming behaviors. He had favorites he took on long, overnight, motorcycle trips. He also picked on certain boys, like me, trying to isolate us to seek approval. He was evil and mean spirited, a true narcissist. The Morris, NJ Boy Scout Council allowed these behaviors, just as Joe allowed Sandusky's behaviors. I never bought into either prick's persona, or subjective perception. I learned later in life Warren preyed on many young men, many who I knew.

Joe was tough on me, but I accepted this as professional hazing. I was the youngest and newest coach on the staff; the lowest man on the totem pole. I left PSU a bit early to pursue my masters in architecture degree. Joe's behaviors and the disparity between PSU's image and reality soured me to major college coaching.

As a man who suffered internal torment thanks to similar evil, I can't accept the torture of young souls Joe failed to stop. Jerry's sick, and his behaviors were perpetuated by Joe's failure to take action; his failure to be a leader. Joe so carefully projected a leader's image in every other aspect of his life.

It's affirming to know I made my first scout leader and Joe uncomfortable. Had I known then, I only wish I'd done more to expose their ruses to protect future victims. The Scout Leader's magnanimous personality, like Jerry's good old boy charm, like Joe's academic dean public persona, apparently masked ruthless deviance for power and control.

Another bizarre tradition at PSU was the coaches showered together after practices and games. We never did this at Brown or at URI and my coaching friends never experienced this on their staffs. It was one of the many things at PSU that made me realize there was something very strange about the program and its staff.

Most pedophiles were abused, but only a small portion of sexual abuse survivors choose to repeat the cycle. The behavior is deviant and not natural. Thus, it must be learned. However, as with psychopaths, some folks may be born with this deviance.

Once a person chooses to repeat or to perpetuate the cycle of sexual abuse, the behavior appears to become a compulsion and there is no way to stop it.

The key is to identify victims and to intervene with constructive counseling and positive role models before their trauma plays out destructively against themselves or others.

Also, my goal is to see laws change so pedophiles are incarcerated for life. They are not diseased and there is no cure. Their actions are premeditated.

Pedophilia is not sex. Sex is an act between two consenting adults, involving people in the same peer group. Pedophilia is an act of power and control perpetrated by a person with more physical, financial, emotional, psychological, or status power and who controls and dominates a victim with sexual acts.

The victim is a person in a subservient role or place in his or her life. The acts may offer some confusing comfort to the victim, but there is no love or concern or compassion involved. The acts are perpetrated to fulfill the deviant needs of the perpetrator.

All guilt / shame / dishonor / disgust / fault belong with the perpetrator, and with those who perpetuated the acts by keeping them in the dark, like in lonely athletic complexes and basement bedrooms.

Often, sexual abuse survivors become frozen, or compartmentalized, by the extreme sexual assaults they experienced as children. If the victim does not receive treatment within thirty days of the initial assault, the trauma can change brain chemistry leading the victim to experience post traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

Some of the PTSD symptoms victims may experience include intrusive thoughts, difficulty in distinguishing truth from fiction, hyper vigilance, increased levels of anxiety, fear, and panic, short and long term memory deficits, sleep disruption, and dissociative symptoms. These symptoms keep victims from moving on and living a fulfilling life. Tragically, without constructive intervention, many victims end their lives early.

The general steps survivors use to integrate their past traumas, to shift from victims to survivors to thrivers, include:

1. Revealing secrets and fragments of one's person with licensed, trained and highly regarded / trusted professionals. Trust is a huge, if not the biggest, issue with survivors. Trust happens when one person knows he or she is safe with someone, or a group. They won't hurt the person when he or she is vulnerable. Predators exploit this trust and use feigned interest and phony gestures to confuse their victims. The goal in recovery is to combine all of one's parts to live as one whole, functional, person with the process to this outcome being assisted by trustworthy and competent counseling professionals.

2. Identify cognitive distortions - fears and criticisms cultivated by the perpetrator and the experience can undermine one's ability to live an autonomous and empowered life. Victims often inaccurately believe they are subservient and dependent on someone more powerful. Healthy survivors separate facts from opinions and live in the current moment, feeling empowered and in control of their destinies.

3. Identify deleterious behavior patterns (submissive or aggressive) fostered by these distortions and choose more positive actions and outcomes with better plans in the present moment. It is important for survivors to recognize the source of their actions, so they can consciously choose better actions. The better outcomes foster better actions and the constructive behavior cycle grows stronger.

4. Integrate one's healthy sense of self with other healthier people to maintain an integrated, whole, functional, mature perspective.

When needed, a combination of talk therapy and prescription medicines can return survivors to stabilized brain chemical levels, rational thoughts, and a sense of well being.

The reactions to childhood sexual abuse are learned as coping tools when the victim is a child. They are often ineffective and may seem hard to break. They may also alter normal brain chemistry and distort the capacity for rational thought. These coping reactions can be relearned and corrected, leading survivors to happy and fulfilling lives.

Next steps for PSU:

It's key to identify the critical obstacles allowing institutional secrets and blindspots. It's also important to create and evaluate success measurements, in addition to graduation rates and wins, where behaviors reflecting shared institutional values, character, and integrity, are recognized and rewarded. What's measured is what gets done.

Misdirected metrics fostered tragedy with Dominoes Pizza a few years ago. Dominoes guaranteed a free pizza if it was not delivered in 30 minutes or less. Part of the late pizza was paid for by the deliverer. People were killed across the country by speeding Dominoes pizza deliverers who did not want to pay for a late pizza. The flawed success metric was creating undesirable outcomes. It was changed.

Winning football games and high player graduation rate metrics appear to be good targets, but they were flawed because they hid or allowed devious behaviors. Perhaps part of the reason the horrific behaviors performed by Jerry at the PSU facilities and at the 2nd mile were not addressed earlier is because the football program's stated critical metrics were being met and piles of money were being dumped into State College and into the University thanks to the team's success and clean image.

Everyone involved bought into this perceived success without taking a closer look at Jerry's inappropriate conduct and connection with young boys, or they ignored and avoided this ugliness intentionally so long as the team had a winning / bowl game season and a majority of the players received their degrees. Again, this is an example of "selective" or "subjective" perception.

The steps organizations use to overcome similar tragedies include:

1. Identifying and removing the people and systems who were obstacles to protecting innocent children and obstacles to the truth. This probably includes the football staff, athletic administration, and many in the school's and state's administration. A reputable and credible outside source must conduct the fact finds and investigation.

2. Establishing metrics driving behaviors assuring transparency and adherence to core values in addition to wins and graduation rates and placing strong people and institutional control in place to assure these metrics, assessing integrity and behaviors reflecting core PSU values, like safety, are being met.

3. Selecting and developing leaders who respond to and seek to address situations with honest and independent thought, and with consideration for truth, collaboration, accommodation, and compromise. Leaders who compete and must only have things their way create silos, yes people, and lock step loyalty, conformity, and compliance. Blind obedience keeps the people in an organization from honest self criticism and selfless behavior. This narcissism can allow evil to propagate.

4. Cultivating many leaders, including low level GA's, who seek the truth and can think independently when addressed with crisis. People must feel encouraged to think and to correct defects and abhorrent behavior on the spot.

After my time at Penn State, I pursued a Masters in Architecture and then got married, coached football and received my MBA at the University of Rhode Island. During an internship I offered team building retreats and this led to my current organizational and leadership development practice.

I help organizations identify strong leaders from technical and scientific worker pools. I work primarily with corporations, yet also help not for profit organizations with my long term programs. I also offer short term talks / seminars / retreats to educate and inspire and to initiate the mentioned long term organizational development programs.

My topics revolve around building healthy and trusting leadership and relationships to improve positive thoughts, actions, and results. I have been married to the same woman, who was with me at Penn State, for over 20 years and we have three great kids. I live in a tiny MA town on Buzzard's Bay.

My goal in sharing this is to:

1. Help survivors gain more control and fulfillment in their lives

2. Stop the abuse cycle.

3. Expose Joe Paterno for his true colors.

4. Foster good (honest, selfless, self critical) behaviors vs. evil (selfish, lying, narcissistic) organizational and leadership behaviors.

Joe Paterno knew and knows everything about what's happening in his program and in State College. He was / is the ultimate control freak. If Jerry committed these crimes it is impossible for me to think Joe was not aware and complicit.

As a Penn State assistant under Rip Engle, Joe's nickname amongst players was Joe the rat. He knew about everything on the team and tattled on players' to the head coach. Joe went to Rip instead of addressing the player face to face. He used power and leverage to exert authority instead of true leadership and influence. Joe was Rip's protected favorite, like a mama's boy. I imagine he felt he could do anything to others and get away with it.

Thus, decades later, when a powerless boy needed a man of real character and integrity to protect him, Joe showed his true colors. He protected himself and let the little boy disappear. Author M. Scott Peck, in his book; "People of the Lie", characterizes evil people as selfish, lying, and narcissistic. It appears Joe's old nickname still holds. Except now, I think it should be Evil Rat.

I am sure Penn State's Trustees would trade all of the violations in the history of the NCAA for the atrocity Joe and Jerry left in their laps. The total number of sanctions placed on football programs in the history of the NCAA do not add up to the destruction of one young boy's soul.

Joe, for all his years of projecting a saintly image while allowing the destruction of young souls, will now be remembered as the head coach who, on his watch and under his nose, did not stop the most vile and destructive scandal in the history of sport. His blind abuse of power made capable Jerry's abuse of children. Joe must be held accountable for this role.

I am tired of perpetrators and their protectors riding off into the sunset with bodies in their wakes.

My efforts are directed at helping survivors.

If you are a survivor, or know a survivor, I hope this article offers some comfort, direction, and hope. Counseling and faith work wonders.

If you know or suspect someone is a predator, please do everything in your power to stop this and to report him or her.

If you know or suspect a child is being abused, please report this to legal authorities, unlike Joe Pa, as soon as you know.

I am not comfortable speaking about my abuse one on one, so I appreciate your recognizing my privacy the next time we meet. However, I am willing to share my story publicly to shed light on the issue and to help other survivors.

Thank you.

In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

- Pastor Martin Niemöller