PSU lettermen swift to act

Former players launching initiative against child sex abuse

by Mike Dawson, Centre Daily Times, March 18, 2012, page A1

What is the definition of manhood?The morning of Nov. 12, seven days after the Penn State world was turned upside down by allegations that Jerry Sandusky sexually abused young boys, more than 100 former NIttany Lion players gathered on campus for an emergency meeting.  In a few hours, their alma mater was set to play Nebraska in its first game without Joe Paterno at the coaching helm in more than six decades.

The university's athletic director, Tim Curley, was facing charges he lied to a grand jury and had been put on administrative leave.

Also out was Penn State President Graham Spanier.  He was known, up until the week before, as the person who grew Penn State into a top-notch research university.

Amid so much turmoil, the men of the Football Letterman's Club quietly took on as task they thought their mentor, Paterno, would have expected them to do.  They voted to take on an initiative they call "Defend A Child," a move to position them as leaders in stopping child abuse.

"All of us in that room... had gotten a massive education in how prevalent sexual abuse is in our society," said one of those men, Rudy Glocker, who played for Paterno in the late '90s.  "We said 'Look, we're going to be leaders.' That's what Joe taught us to do."  Glocker, who is running for a seat on the university's board of trustees, joined the initiative in December.

The club's goals are simple: first educate its members, then raise awareness about sexual abuse and educate the community about preventing it.

Along the way, members have learned startling statistics: On average, 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused before their 18th birthdays.  For boys, the average is 1 in 6. Or that 73 percent of child victims don't tell anyone they were abused for at least a year.  Forty-five percent of the victims don't say anything for at least five years, according to the national organization Darkness to Light.

The lettermen involved don't want to be singled out for their part in making the initiative come together or what it'll do.  That was something Paterno taught them, they've said, pointing to the empty space on the back of the Penn State football jersey where the name would go.

Further, they say they're not trying to reinvent the wheel by duplicating existing advocacy and education services.  Instead, they want to use their celebrity and influence to make people comfortable with talking about child sexual abuse and direct them to the experts.

Blue-White weekend, on April 20-22, is slated to be the internal launch of the initiative.

IMG1937To learn about child sex abuse, club members will attend an April 21 training session offered by the law firm of Love and Norris, of Fort Worth, Texas.  The firm defends victims of child sexual abuse in the public, private and religious sectors.

Some lettermen who play in the NFL will be filmed in public service announcements on the topic of child sexual abuse.  The PSAs will be filmed by WPSU, the university's public broadcasting station.

"This is a great initiative, and we certainly encourage all and any efforts to educate and raise awareness about this insidious and destructive crime." said Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers.  "Leadership on all fronts is needed if we are to make a difference, and the lettermen can certainly make a difference."

The group's website, www.defendachild.org, should be up and running by then, too, and contain resources and related information.

As they're readying themselves for the club's launch, members have been reaching out to Centre County organizations and national child abuse prevention advocactes and experts.

Earlier in March, the attended a meeting of local leaders working on organizing an initiative called the Centre County Child Safety and Protection Collaborative.  It includes leaders from the county's United Way, YMCA, Woman's Resource Center and Youth Service Bureau.

That meeting featured speakers from Darkness to Light, which is based in Charleston, S.C.

Cindy McElhinney, the director of Darkness to Light programs, said she thinks the lettermen will set "a great example" in advancing the education about child sex abuse.  Her organization has provided them with 2 1/2-hour interactive training workshop.

McElhinney said the training teaches adults how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child abuse.  Participants have to talk about child sex abuse, something she said is a tough barrier to break down.

The lettermen also have turned to advocactes at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape for educational and prevention resources.

Coalition spokeswoman Kristen Houser said prevention efforts go beyond calling the police to report possible abuse, and she applauded the lettermen and their efforts.

"We're really encouraged that so many people from so many walks of life want to be a part of the solutions." she said.