Moving beyond moral outrage

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The trial of Jerry Sandusky is about more than Jerry Sandusky.

Oh yes, the venom spewed on Sandusky in the wake of his sexual abuse trial is well deserved. The former Penn State assistant coach, who was found guilty of 45 of 48 charges of sexual abuse of young children on Friday, deserves scorn, deserves vitriol, deserves every angry epithet that has been thrown his way since a judge gaveled him guilty, and hundreds of gatherers outside the Bellefonte, Pa. courthouse let out a raucous cheer.

But he and his case do not deserve to be forgotten. This case isn’t cathartic.

Sports and law are supposed to be two separate domains, and the two occasionally commingle to various degrees of public consumption. We usually cringe when they do, but keep on watching anyway. Most often, these cases just remind us that individuals do despicable things — think the Michael Vick dogfighting case, or the Kobe Bryant sexual assault trial.

We watch, we scorn, and we go on with our lives as usual. More often than not, we change nothing, because there is nothing we can change.

The Sandusky trial was different. At the very least, I hope we remember it differently.

Unlike Vick or Bryant, Sandusky didn’t come into his trial a media icon as much as an empty face. Joe Paterno was the symbol of the Penn State program that attracted so much attention, and his college football team — never too big to fail — has forever been tarnished.

Sandusky is every bit the “monster” prosecutors accused him to be. But calling him a monster doesn’t ease the pain nor isolate the problem. Sandusky isn’t a pimple on the human race as much as a cancer — a symptom of a larger, more menacing problem lying beneath the surface. Sandusky isn’t yet a scapegoat, but he could become one unless we consider what brought on this problem.

As I sat on my couch in Berkeley watching the verdict unfold on TV, a phrase from Robert Reich’s famous November speech in front of Sproul Hall popped into mind — moral outrage. “The moral outrage was the beginning, the sense of injustice,” Reich said at the time, speaking of social movements.

Those same words uttered of the Occupy movement seven months ago could be applied to this trial.

According to a 2009 study published by the Clinical Psychology Review, 7.9 percent of men and 19.7 percent of women around the world experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. In America, those figures change to 7.5 and 25.3 percent, respectively.

That’s a lot of outrage going unvoiced.

The Sandusky trial and the Occupy movement have little in common but two things. One of them is moral outrage. The other is an impetus for widespread change.

The 45 guilty verdicts against Sandusky on Friday don’t correct any cosmic imbalance. Nor ought they to bring a lasting sense of relief. There is no unabusing the children who’ve been abused, either in the Sandusky case, or those that never go to trial. Sentencing one man isn’t been enough.

As much as Sandusky deserves to spend the next 60 to 442 years of his life in prison, outrage is only the beginning.

I hope the trial of Jerry Sandusky changes the world. I hope sexual predators are more scared now. I hope victims of sexual abuse are less afraid to speak up. If the trial of Jerry Sandusky changes the world at all, I hope it becomes a safer place to be a child, a parent, a human being — in the shower of a locker room on a college campus or anywhere else.