Those of you who remember the fabulous TV program that ran from 1978-81, The White Shadow, know that many episodes included scenes in which Carver High basketball team members were shown after practice in a common shower room, washing away the sweat of their workout. Any number of things could be discussed while the players were cleaning up, and at times an impromptu doo-wop singing session would ensue.
For those of us who grew up in the 1970s and the decades before, there was nothing odd about the idea of a group of high-school athletes showering in the same room—without curtains or opaque glass doors. That’s how it was done. You practiced. You showered. You got changed. Together. We were all guys and had the, ahem, same equipment, so it was no big deal. Sometimes, a coach would be in the shower room when we got there, but that didn’t matter. His “equipment” was just older than ours.
Today’s young athletes would watch those White Shadow scenes and cringe. I don’t know how this happened, but the idea of a basketball team’s ending practice and then hitting the showers together is as alien to them as is dialing a phone or using a typewriter. When my son played high-school sports, he would think nothing of walking off the field and into my car smelling like the area under the Platt Bridge on a steamy August afternoon, because there was no way he was showering in the gym. I’m not even sure there were showers there.
I am talking about just showering, of course, because the disgusting details of Jerry Sandusky’s alleged monstrous behavior that continue to ooze out of the courtroom in Bellefonte are about something completely different. Mike McQueary’s testimony of Sandusky’s alleged rape of a boy has brought anyone following the case into Penn State’s athletic facility’s showers in the most horrifying way possible. Images presented by the alleged victims (an aside: won’t it be great when we can stop using the word “alleged” to describe the courageous young men who have stepped forward to confront their tormentor?) of hugging and soaping up and horseplay have been burned into our minds forever.
Monday, former Penn State assistant football coaches Dick Anderson and Booker Brooks testified that it was not unusual for coaches to shower with younger boys—and men of all ages at Penn State’s facility. Of course, when Brooks was asked by a prosecutor whether he would have a problem if another man were hugging his grandson while they showered, he replied, “Well, no. If it happened like that, I would.”
Of course he would have a problem with that. Anybody would. There is a huge difference between people’s using showers for their intended purpose—to get clean—and a predator’s employing them to molest children.
About seven or eight years ago, my three sons and I swam indoors at a local health club and changed back into our clothes in the locker room afterward. As you might expect, men of all shapes and sizes were parading around, in various stages of undress, including the Obligatory Hairy Naked Dude, who seems to be installed by central casting in every locker room. Other than the fact that my kids weren’t too keen on being in the hot tub (in their bathing suits) with OHND, there was no unease in the room. Men and boys changed. They showered. They walked around.
That athletic culture has prevailed for decades, and will persist moving forward. Sandusky’s alleged actions have nothing to do with business as usual at health club, school, college and professional locker rooms around the world. They represent the manifestations of an abuser’s polluted mind. They demonstrate what can happen when susceptible children become entangled with someone who takes advantage of their trust and vulnerability to satisfy his own twisted desires.
They also mean that no coach/mentor/trainer/friendly uncle will be showering with young boys again. Or at least we hope he won’t. The graphic accounts from the alleged victims have shown us that no parent can be certain that the man their son is in contact with is completely above reproach. That’s too bad, but it must be that way. From now on the rule is simple: if a boy has to take a shower away from home, he either does it alone, or with his father, brother or grandfather. Period. If that can’t be arranged, he heads home a little ripe and cleans up there.
As for the rest of us, the ritualistic cleansing after games, workouts and practice sessions can—and should—continue. It may be too much to ask today’s high-schoolers to reprise the habits of Carver High’s finest, and it’s unlikely they would ever sing “Duke of Earl” as well as Coolidge, Thorpe, Hayward, Reese et al did. But the huge difference between the foul acts of a predator and innocent bathing must remain clear. Sandusky’s alleged behavior is criminal, despicable and craven. Everything else is just getting clean.