Thursday, November 17, 2011

Penn State University - Too BIG to Tell

Here is an obvious question, why didn’t anyone call the police? Was the desire to maintain a Big Ten Football legacy so strong that children were allowed to be victimized?  What was the culture at Penn State University, where it allowed coaches and staff to think it was acceptable to pass the buck and turn a blind eye to child abuse?  Where students rioted on campus, but not because they are outraged for the victimization of young children, but because their beloved Coach Joe Paterno was fired.  

I find the duality of the Penn State’s football program quite ironic. Outwardly, there is a quest for football excellence, yet go deeper and find the ignoring and hiding of horrific crimes against minors and the protection for a predator. The layers of inexcusable behaviors are numerous and it all begins with Jerry Sandusky.  He satisfied his sexual desires by preying on young boys for many years. He destroyed their lives for his deviant satisfaction. It is just as appalling the lack of action from both a janitor and a grad-assistant that witnessed Sandusky doing unspeakable acts with boys. A janitor saw Sandusky in the shower with a child. A grad-assistant walked in on Sandusky raping a child.  Neither called the police. At some point Joe Paterno received this information and he casually passed it along. Arguably “Joe Pa”, the most powerful person on Penn State’s campus never followed-up on what was told to him.  Did he just see Sandusky on the football field and pretend not to know? Did he toss the thought out of his mind and went on with the business of winning football games? By doing nothing, Paterno sent the message to Sandusky that Penn State University was a safe place to be a sexual predator.  Also, Paterno’s inactions conveyed to the other coaches and staff that not reporting Sandusky to the police was acceptable. 
Looking at Penn State’s Football Program from a system theory perspective according to Warren (1978) a social system is a structural organization of the interaction of parts that endures over time, i.e. a family structure, a community and organizations… a social system must establish and maintain boundaries in order to survive; when their boundaries become blurred, social systems become less viable. Often football teams describe themselves as a family and function much like a family structure.  In this case, Penn State's Football Program functioned as a family that was dysfunctional and Joe Paterno was its paternal figurehead. In this family system it functioned closed; whereas it isolated itself from its environment and was highly resistant to influences from outside forces.  This football program wanted to play by its own rules no matter what the cost. In addition, the staff that witnessed these crimes suffered from “bystander apathy” the unwillingness to do the right thing. This was the perfect environment for a person in power within this type of structure to prey and abuse the helpless and at the same time be celebrated as a great coach and leader. 
 Finally, the silence was broken for the victims, but the road ahead is a difficult one.  Research shows that sexual abuse victims recover the best with family support along with psychotherapy and I would also add prayer . I hope the social workers and other mental health professionals are in their rightful place to provide the needed support for the children and their families.
Penn State University has the task of looking inward to begin the course of corrective action with its football program and campus as a whole. The firing and placing staff on administration leave is just a small step. A fundamental cultural shift must occur on the campus. No longer can a sports program be allowed to operate in isolation to abandon its moral responsibilities when it is convenient. Nor can they place people on pedestals and then ignore their wrongdoings. The pursuit for environmental change should include an open and honest dialog, a task-centered approach and staff accountability. There is a need for intensive training for Penn State's Football coaches and staff on the proper protocols with children on campus, i.e. mandating reporting, how to report abuse, working with at risk children, adult roles & boundaries with children and what sexual abuse is.  Putting these recommendations in place is the start of building a new Penn State.

I have included the following links of the Grand Jury Report and the Scandal Timeline.

All the best, 
Natalie Graves, A.M. 
"The Other Coach”

Jerry Sandusky arrested: Grand jury report - The Washington Post

College football: Penn State scandal timeline -

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The other coach "SOCIAL WORKER"

My name is Natalie Graves and I have been interested in sports since I was a young girl. Watching sporting events was something I did with my father, mother and younger brother. Living in Chicago, the Bears and the Bulls were very important to my family. I remember fondly cheering for Walter Payton and Michael Jordan as they did something unbelievable in the game. We would scream and give each other high fives in celebration of a good play. These are wonderful memories of my childhood. Being a sports fan has always been a part of my life growing up and as an adult it still is.

Another big part of my life is my career in social work. I have always loved helping people and the field of social work allows me to do just that. I have worked for over ten years with at risk children and adolescents in social services agencies. I also worked as a certified School Social Worker in elementary and junior high schools. I am currently consulting with parents, schools and social service agencies, while studying for my clinical license exam. I am also in the process of developing a private practice working with athletes and sports programs.

My theoretical point of view is based on the Biopsychosocial Perspective. This is a multidimensional framework which focuses on three basic dimensions, biophysical, psychological and social. Each dimension deals with a part of human development and behavior. This concept suggests that no one element is the sole cause or reason for a person or in this case an athlete's behavioral response. Instead, human behavior is the result of interactions between a person and his or her environment. To give an example - An athlete is stellar on the hockey field and he is emotionally and physically abusive towards his girlfriend. The social worker would look at the athlete's early development, psychological functioning and family supports and dynamics to address the issue.

For many years I wanted to integrate my two loves, social work and sports. When I began to take notice of some athletes and the problems they were facing off the field, I began thinking here is a population that could benefit from the support of mental health services. I am writing this blog to discuss topics and issues as it relates to sports athletes from a social work perspective.