Power, Control, Sexuality and Sports


A while back I wrote a column here decrying how some progressives reject sports as entertainment. The recent and horrifying Penn State and then Syracuse University sexual abuse scandals might seem a persuasive counterargument.

Except for the fact that as much as they may involve sports, they are not a result of sports. Alas, the culture of contemporary college sports — and by extension, the possible and potentially very lucrative career to follow for star college players in professional sports — certainly played its role in allowing the accused perpetrators to commit such heinous acts and be shielded from exposure and prevented from continuing to do almost incalculable harm to vulnerable and impressionable youth.

But that culture is only an extension of our larger culture, which is where the real issues that led to these both disgusting and sad situations. We can only hope that now that the abuse and the surrounding circumstances that allowed it to continue and be covered up have come to light, our society might begin to confront the major issue of child sexual abuse, and how our culture fails to deal with it and even, regrettably, enables and fosters it.

At the heart of it all are some major human matters: power, control and sexuality. My feeling is that modern America deals rather poorly with all three.

Childhood sexual abuse of both boys and girls is the great unspoken epidemic of our times. And until American society can manage to find a mature, open and, yes, liberated attitude regarding sexuality, that won’t change. Nor will such troublesome matters as a significant number of Republicans showing no concern that multiple women not only have accused Herman Cain of sexual harassment, but their claims were valid enough that they led to settlements. But I am getting ahead of myself into the realm of power….

Our society is suffused with sexuality yet America continues to also maintain a puritan attitude towards it. This conundrum is at the heart of the problem. At the same time we have yet as a society to develop healthy ways of guiding our youth at puberty into adult sexuality, and this puritanism is one primary reason why. It’s also why our society has yet to also find healthy and effective ways to educate prepubescent children about the primal aspect of the human animal. Of course, if the right wing has their way, we shall continue to have a sexually repressed society. And repression breeds the sort of genuine perversity as we see in these incidents.

I find it telling the accused Penn State perpetrator Jerry Sandusky titled his autobiography Touched. One major aspect is sexual abuse is what’s known as “the cycle of abuse” — those who have been abused can become abusers themselves.

Even though these cases are about same sex molestation, I hesitate to refer to them as homosexual. Another key aspect of males that prey on underage males is that they are largely avowed heterosexuals. Yet at the same time, as long as our society continues to regard homosexuals as abnormal or second-class citizens and their sexuality in any way shameful, we won’t be able to effectively address this issue. Saying homosexuality is shameful only helps perpetuate the reasons why the abused fail to speak out.

And as mentioned, there are the matters of power and control here. Predators use power and control to prey on their victims. The allure of sports can assist such predators in committing their crimes. But again, blaming sports is only to look at the symptoms rather than the cause.

Sports can be a positive influence in society, and live up to the claims that it is character building among many other beneficial aspects. Abusers such as the sort that the accusations against Sandusky suggest that he is also demean sports by their actions.

Hopefully this shocking scandal might prompt a public dialog and reexamination of how our society fails to deal with sexuality in a healthy, mature and genuinely liberated fashion. And we also need to examine the perversity of how aspects of power and control corrupt and pervert sexuality. And sports. Until we do, sexual abuse will remain a corrosive and devastating crime and tragedy.

Rob Patterson is an entertainment and political writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2012


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