Sports' entitlements foster evil
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The locker room, maybe you've noted recently, can be a sinister place.
Not every locker room, just too many.
Don't know what makes it that way precisely, maybe the testosterone, maybe the smell, maybe the temperature, maybe the competitive nature of raw jocularity, maybe the twisted sense of entitlement, maybe 100 other things.
Nick Pappas started finding himself in locker rooms a long time ago, first as a college hockey player, then as a coach, later as a counselor. For 25 years, he worked at hockey camps at Penn State, commonly coming into contact with kids in The Second Mile program, long before anyone associated it with the alleged pathologies of its founder and patron saint, Jerry Sandusky.
"Sometimes, those guys would stay in the same dorms as the hockey guys," Pappas told me Wednesday. "I think their group had two weeks every summer when they would stay overnight at Penn State's camp. I was a hockey instructor."
Pappas talked to those kids, talked to their counselors, talked to the hockey players, wound up talking to professional players in stints with two minor league clubs and two more in Europe. By the time he started his doctoral dissertation at Ohio State, he had interviewed, he guesses, 142 college and pro athletes in five sports -- baseball, basketball, football, wrestling and hockey.
His book is waiting on a release date -- December or January is the time frame -- and Pappas likely just hoped it would be topical. He never expected Penn State to help make it required reading.
"The Dark Side of Sports: Exposing the Sexual Culture of Collegiate and Professional Athletes," is the result of 12 years of Pappas' work on the sometimes stunningly unsettling sense of life in those locker rooms.
"My findings reveal that, based on interviews with players who competed from the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and right up through 2010, that there is rampant sexual deviance and aggression that's been part of that culture going back 45 years.
"There is no sign that it's slowing down. It's kept in the closet. There are sexual predators in the athletic culture."
Yeah, he's bringing it.
Pappas' work primarily examines the ways athletes target women, who, he says, are far more commonly abused in the athletic culture than children, but the enabling factors for both crimes are more or less constant, pervasive, perhaps endemic.
"Certain things in the Sandusky case appear commonly," Pappas said. "Things were not addressed. People looked the other way. When you're looking the other way and you don't know what your athletes are doing, then you can say, 'I didn't know,' and you're telling the truth.
"You have to look at the fact that athletes are put up on a pedestal. There's a thing [in that culture] called athletes privilege and a thing called coaches privilege. There's a lot of hero worship, and the result is that people don't think these things can occur at the hands of people we look up to. These people can rise above things for which other citizens would be called out. These people have gotten away from consequences. Haven't experienced certain consequences. Haven't had anyone tell them, 'You can't do this.' "
Over 30 years of sports writing, I've never considered myself to be in the pedestal manufacturing business or in the hero development and maintenance industry. I've written glowingly about some characters that ultimately made me look foolish for doing it, but among the very few people I thought might actually be deserving of a pedestal was Jerry Sandusky.
He struck me as devoid of ego, convivial, earnest, and had a stack of altruistic credentials as high as Joe Paterno's if not higher. He loved kids.
His specific alleged pathologies demand analysis at the highest psycho-dynamic levels, but the launch point for him or any number of alleged sexual predators, as Pappas pointed out, isn't terribly hard to identify.
"Places where people have power and prestige," he said. "You can see it in the political world, things constantly coming to the forefront, such as infidelity. In the corporate world, where people have power and status. Money is power.
"But, in athletic cultures, this is not being addressed. When I interview coaches, they'll address gambling, address alcohol. But how can you address sexual deviancy when you don't know the extent of it? The problem is, they don't want to know."
Pappas said his book is not for academia. It's a guide for parents, coaches, administrators, media and anyone else who needs to understand what can happen in the locker room.
Sounds way beyond topical.
First Published November 17, 2011 12:00 am