A couple of years ago, I remember driving home from a camping trip. There was something in the middle of the road. As we came closer I could see that it was a deer. It didn’t move an inch as our car came closer. We circled around it and kept driving up the road. As the road curved I took one last look in the rearview mirror at the body and right as the deer came out of view, it lifted it’s head up from the ground. It sent chills down my spine.
We didn’t go back. We had all kinds of reasons not to. We had a long drive to get home. The area was too remote. Someone else will stop and help it. We didn’t have a gun or a knife to put the deer to rest.
As the miles accumulated between our car and that poor dying deer I felt tremendous guilt well up in me. It’s just an animal. It’s probably already dead. Right?
When I first heard about the allegations of abuse against Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky the first thing I thought about was the deer. A graduate student saw him sodomizing a 10 year old child in the showers. He told Joe Paterno, the winningest football coach in college football history. The longest tenured and most influential figure on the campus and in the community.
Joe reported the story to a Penn State official. Then he moved on. Jerry Sandusky continued doing what he had been doing for years. Grooming little boys and sexually abusing them. Joe wouldn’t have known of course, because he did the bare minimum to keep himself out of trouble. Maybe that was enough to assuage any guilt he would have had.
I understand Joe. After driving 100 miles, I had my friend pull to the side of the road. I got animal control on the phone. Reported to them that I saw a deer on the road which seemed to be alive. I told myself that I did my best. It is now in their hands. What more could I do right? I did my part.
For some reason, I have never been able to forget that split second. Seeing that scared and vulnerable creature lift it’s furry head off of the bloody concrete. In that moment we made a choice. Keep driving.
It was a choice. Much like Joe. If there was anybody on that campus who could have put a stop to Sandusky’s horrific exploitation it would have been Joe. You don’t say no to the biggest man on campus.
He never followed up. He never made sure the police knew what was going on.
He didn’t turn the car around.
Unfortunatly this should not come as a surprise to any one, as this is the typical responce in all of these kinds of cases. You read about in the paper and see it on the news every day. This is how the church handled it. Society reveres the king of pop “Michael Jackson” he has paid off three families thyat we know of, yet he is more popular THAN EVER. The point in all this is FBI stats are :the average pedophile molests 84 victims before they are caught. Silence and denial continue to thrive in the mainstream of America. Only by uniting and working together do we have a chance to stop this. Little has changed, but it is beginning to; very slowly. Keep doing what you are doing and we can make a difference in time.
Thank you for posting this thoughtful story.
Everyone’s spending so much time pronouncing judgement on McQueary and others that most folks are neglecting to discuss how people come to neglect moral duties, which even the best of us do (and then unconsciously cover it by the power of cognitive dissonance). My own working theory is that the key missing factor is carrying out advance mental rehearsal of sudden, horribly inconvenient dilemmas, and attempting to remember past ones clearly and honestly, so that we are prepared in advance rather than getting thrown off-balance and carried along by patterned behaviour, the next time it happens.
That’s why I particularly appreciate your story and its lesson. Anyone can be caught off-balance and fail to act, so acting late is so very much better than punting because you weren’t perfect and doing nothing.
Well said Chris. Thank you for this post. I think we have all had our deers in the road, but some have caused horrendous pain to occur, or keep occurring. That young boy in the shower was their deer, and they kept driving.
Rick Moen’s comment is spot on. People who deal with emergencies “officially” are trained to think through crisis situations: someone collapses, you check airway, breathing, circulation….you are taught the signs of stroke, C-spine injury, and the rest, and what to do if you see them. That makes it easy, even on a first ambulance run, to see the gunshot wound, the blood, and stick to “Airway, breathing, circulation, guy’s alive, support the ABCs…”
It’s the unexpected emergency that paralyzes–the one you never thought you’d ever encounter if you even knew it existed. It may be the injury, or it may be the person–the known person in the unthinkable situation. (A seasoned EMT I knew went to pieces when the person in the wrecked car had been his fourth grade teacher.)
When I taught a high school class in emergency care (rural school), we did scenarios: had the kids enact emergency situations they were likely to meet (uncle collapses at family gathering, friend’s car misses the bridge on that back road) rehearsing the “thinking through” steps. And there were some saves out of that class–kids with no medical background at all able to apply what they’d learned in a brief six-weeks segment to save a baby, a fellow-worker, and (though not save) do everything right to try to save the friend whose pickup overturned at exactly that bridge.
We need that kind of discussion and training for situations where abuse is witnessed. What to do first, second, third…not only whom to tell, but how to follow up and the importance of following up. We can’t continue to let “unthinkable” be part of the mythology of sexual abuse because the unthinkable is paralyzing to deal with.
There’s more than one deer on more than one highway…we need to turn this car around.