A view through a cracked lens

I’ll be honest. Up until a day or so ago, I really hadn’t been paying close attention to the Penn State story. As an adult survivor of childhood abuse, I’m living and dealing with my own story every day. I don’t have to look to media for more.

I’ll be honest about something else, too. Just 24 hours ago, I’d never heard of Jon Ritchie. Then, yesterday afternoon, I happened to be channel flipping and ran across his conversation above with Bob Ley on the ESPN show Outside the Lines. Now Jon Ritchie is one of my favorite men. If you watch the video above, I think you’ll see why.

Jon speaks of his long history with Jerry Sandusky, a man he regarded as a role model, friend, and mentor from the time of their first meeting when Ritchie was 14 and Sandusky was recruiting him for the Penn State football program. Speaking about Sandusky, Jon says:

“I just felt like this man was so selfless, and so egoless, that he was what I aspired to be someday. And now, that foundation of what I thought was credible, and what I thought was important, and what I thought was good has crumbled. It’s decimated and it’s caused me to just reevaluate everything around me.”

A bit later, he says, “My whole lens has cracked.”

I understand exactly what Jon is saying because I’ve had a similar experience. Several years ago, I learned that an older man I’d known and admired my entire life, someone I’d loved and respected, someone with whom I’d spent countless hours as a child, had systematically sexually abused at least a dozen children over a period of around 25 years.

I was completely blindsided. I felt as if my entire world had been turned upside down. I’d never had any indication, not as a child and not as an adult, that anything so hideous was going on. He was, in my perception, one of the safest adults I knew as a child. I’d never received any inappropriate attention from him or heard of anyone else who had.

Shock is far, far too mild a word for what I felt and experienced in response to these revelations. As Jon says in the video, what I’d learned caused me to reevaluate everything. Not just my relationship with this man I’d trusted so much, my memories of my time with him, and my feelings about him, but everything. My sense of what I thought I knew and who I thought I could trust was ruptured down to the very root.

I was horribly disoriented for weeks, and it took a long time for me to come to terms with what I’d learned and to right myself again. Furthermore, I was unprepared to find that someone else I’d known and trusted all my life would do anything to protect this serial abuser’s reputation as a “great man”, to deny, to cover up, and to press his victims to keep the secret. This, to me, has been as appalling as the abuse itself, and has poisoned my relationship with that person as well.

Perhaps that’s why I’m so impressed with Jon Ritchie today. He could’ve taken the route of protecting, denying, and rationalizing on behalf of his long-time hero, or he could’ve simply stayed out of sight and kept quiet until things settled down. Instead he’s chosen to take the path of honor and integrity, to allow others to witness his walk through the flames.

I can see the deep pain in his eyes as he speaks, and I know it all too well. He’s obviously been shaken to the core. It’s not easy to accept that someone so close and so admired has done such awful things, much less to speak publicly about it so soon after finding out. Jon is sharing what is surely one of the most devastating experiences of his life in real time and in an incredibly transparent way.

The children who were molested and assaulted are the primary victims here, and that is where, as Jon says, the focus belongs. But Jon and others like him, who were close with Jerry Sandusky and saw him as a mentor, a hero, a role model, and a good man, are part of the collateral damage, secondary victims who’ve been deeply wounded by a horrific betrayal of trust and confidence that cuts to the bone and warps one’s sense of reality.

These men are in crisis, too. They’re feeling crazy, wondering how they could’ve been so thoroughly fooled for so long, and worrying that they somehow failed to pay sufficient attention to realize what was going on and stop it. They’re searching their own memories, wondering if maybe something happened to them as well, something they’ve somehow blocked out or rationalized away. Some are thinking they’re damn lucky it wasn’t them, and feeling guilty about the relief that comes with that. They’ve all been damaged and injured, too, certainly not in the same ways or to the same degree as the children who were molested and assaulted, but in ways that still matter deeply, and they’re going to need compassion, understanding, and time to heal as well.

If I could thank Jon in person for this brave, honest, articulate, and very moving interview, I would. I hope it’s widely seen and discussed. It’s an incredibly helpful, vital part of the conversation for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that, even in what must be one of the darkest moments of his life, Jon Ritchie is still showing us what it means to be a good man.

This post originally appeared on 11/12/11 on the Good Men Project website.

Creative Commons License
A view through a cracked lens by Rick Belden, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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