If you're a father and you're like me, you've had way too many bad dreams over the last week.
I raised four sons and now have the immense enjoyment of watching six granddaughters growing up, and my heart breaks for those boys who were horrifyingly abused at the hands of an adult they trusted with their lives at Penn State.
Not just any adult either, a coach who we had falsely believed dedicated his life to teaching young men about football and about life. This was a man who even launched a charitable foundation to help underprivileged kids, and yes, now we have to question even the motives there.
Coaches in my life were people I looked up to and trusted implicitly. Those coaches I remember most stood out among men: Coach Thurman in the seventh grade at Eisenhower Junior High in Carlsbad, N.M.; Coach O'Dell in the ninth grade; Coach Bowyer, Coach Willis and Coach Stell in high school. These were men of honor, men of integrity, men you wanted to grow up to be like someday.
Thank God, they weren't Jerry Sandusky.
And yet, until a few days ago, there were probably hundreds of young men who felt the same way about him.
This is how easily we can be fooled, and if we don't understand and "get it," if we don't learn this painful lesson, then we are doomed to suffer the same shock, the same indignation, the same sickening rage, over, and over, and over again.
This wasn't just a breakdown at one of our most revered institutions of higher learning. This isn't just a problem at "Linebacker U." This is a failure of our society and of our system, and if we, each of us as individuals, don't kick ourselves in the rear and pledge to our kids, to our spouses, to ourselves, to protect our children no matter what the cost, then we are just as guilty as those who turned a blind eye at Penn State.
Plenty of great minds -- OK, other sports columnists -- have weighed in on this horrific episode already, but two points keep coming back to me.
One is obvious. Why did those who had knowledge of what had already happened and might still be happening not notify the police? You witness a horrendous crime being committed, or you're told of this crime, what do you do?
Do you call your boss? Kick it upstairs and forget about it? No, you immediately call the police. That's where the system broke down. Instead of protecting the kids, those in positions of responsibility elected to protect the university.
It started with graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary and, believe me, I've tried to put myself in his place to figure out whether I would have acted differently. I hope I would have. I hope I would have immediately stepped in to get the child away from Sandusky and then called the police. That was what McQueary should have done.
But he was young and he was stunned beyond belief, perhaps intimidated by the prestige and power he knew Sandusky held at Penn State. So McQueary retreated and phoned his father, who apparently suggested that the thing to do was to notify the most powerful force in State College, Pa., Joe Paterno.
In so doing, the McQuearys elected to leave the boy in the hands of a monster overnight. As it would turn out, that decision was the first of many that would leave who knows how many young boys in Sandusky's hands for the next nine years.
The second point that keeps rolling around in my head is the brazenness of this predator. At least twice, eyewitnesses saw him assaulting young boys in the showers at Penn State. These were incidents so ghastly, so numbing, so terrible, that the witnesses themselves were traumatized. Yet, nothing happened and the despicable acts continued for a decade more.
What we can gather from this is that Sandusky felt invulnerable. He felt protected. He believed -- and he was right -- that he could do whatever he wanted, wherever he wanted, to whomever he wanted, and nobody would do anything about it.
Who provided him with that kind of protection? Who allowed him to feel so invulnerable? Just about everyone involved in this sordid mess. Mike McQueary gave Sandusky tacit approval to continue when the young grad assistant didn't physically stop him that fateful Friday night in 2002, and when he let it drop after reporting the incident to Paterno.
What did Paterno do? He called his boss. That's it. He never said a word to Sandusky, his old protégé and longtime friend. He never reported the crime to the police. As the police commissioner said, Paterno, godfather of coaches, the man who always did everything right, fumbled the moral football. He didn't do what he'd sworn he would always do: He didn't protect the kids.
Neither did others in power at Penn State. They just swept it under the rug and hoped and prayed it would never come out.
Have you ever done that? Have you ever faced a situation in which you knew what you should do, but didn't have the moral courage to follow through? God help me, I have. Not at this level, of course, but that makes me no less guilty.
This is the pledge we have to take as a society. We can't accept or tolerate anything that hurts other people, especially kids; but that also includes racism, homophobia, sexism, you name it. Nor is it acceptable to just ignore a wrong, to turn our backs and hope it goes away. We have to stand up and be counted. We have to do the right thing.
There can be no equivocation, no halfway steps, no thinking, well, I'll say something next time.
Chances are that's what happened at Penn State. Someone -- everyone -- decided to look the other way, to pretend this just wasn't happening, to leave it up to someone else. The most important thing, they decided, was the university.
No, no and no.
What's most important is common human decency. And, of course, the kids.
We can't look the other way any more.
Our kids and our very souls are at stake.