Feeling personal pain
What Paterno can’t know is the pain that Paknis experienced as a child, the pain that makes these news events feel so personal.
“That’s what kept me up, because I got triggered,” Paknis says. “I figured I had most of my feelings had gone. But we all have a lot of compartments.”
He started cursing Sandusky, and anyone involved. He saw himself.
“He picked on kids who didn’t have a support structure,” Paknis says of Sandusky, who founded the Second Mile charity for at-risk kids only to allegedly prey upon them. “Kids who didn’t have the structure in place to make them feel whole and good.”
As a boy in Madison, N.J., Paknis experienced a family in crisis. His father was around, but preoccupied. His mother was dying of cancer.
A male neighbor took advantage, grooming him, then sexually abusing him.
Paknis was 11. He said nothing, knowing that his family respected the neighbor, and believing he wouldn’t be believed. His struggles in school suggested something was wrong, however, so his mother sent him to counseling. Paknis felt comfortable with the counselor and eventually shared his secret.
He never shared it with his mother, who died before he graduated high school. The abuse allegation never got escalated to the legal authorities. His abuser never got exposed, so the loop never got closed, though Paknis was able to confront, threaten and stop him after growing to nearly 200 pounds as an eighth-grader.
The Penn State scandal
Paknis persevered. He pushed forward. He tried to put it behind him.
But, after his mother passed, he started experiencing chronic sleep disruption. That went on for years until, finally, in 1996, after the birth of he and his wife’s second of three children, he decided he needed more help. Upon receiving it, and finding his "safe place," he started to feel more comfortable speaking out. In 1999, in response to a Sports Illustrated story about sexual abuse in youth sports, he wrote a letter to his hometown paper about the role sports played in "saving his life" after his own abuse.
Now, he's even ready to do some public speaking on his situation, and on behalf of those who aren't ready to speak up for themselves.
That’s one of the reasons Paknis has has been upset about the reaction of some at Penn State to this crisis, and their focus on Paterno as a victim rather than on the kids.
“It will not make it easier,” he says. “Not at all. If survivors are in there, they will just blame themselves more.”
He saves no sympathy for anyone but them.
Not for Sandusky.
Not for anyone in the Penn State power structure top to bottom, even if that means clearing out people Paknis liked, like Tom Bradley, who was promoted to head coach to replace Paterno.
“The first thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to look at the situation honestly,” Paknis says. “Then you have to separate reality from distortions, or your opinions from facts. Someone has to go in there with a lot of credibility, and start putting the mirror up: This is really what was happening, and the behaviors that were really the result of those type of falsehoods and distortions. How do we bring the world back on that kind of axis, so our behaviors and actions are really reflecting the truth? What kind of checks and balances do we have to put in place so no one gets that type of power again? It’s just a culture. You’ve got to clear it. "
Paknis saves no sympathy for McQueary, who is on indefinite leave and reportedly has received threats. And who, Paknis notes, was promoted within a couple of years of his alleged report to Paterno rather than police.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
And certainly, he saves none for Paterno, whom he calls a “spin doctor” who believed too much of his own hype.
“It’s sort of an empty reaction,” Paknis says. “Almost like a pitiful reaction. I wish (his ouster) had happened 10 years ago when he first knew about it. I don’t know how much longer he’s going to be here. If it is true, I would have enjoyed seeing him receive a minor, tiny fraction of the pain that was felt by these kids. And that would be plenty. You can add all the infractions in the history of the NCAA, and it wouldn’t add up to the loss of all these boys’ souls.”
CFT: Former Penn State signalcaller Steven Bench joined the South Florida Bulls, he announced on Twitter.
CFT: The University of Nevada is honoring longtime coach Chris Ault, who stepped down in the fall, by renaming the school's football field after him.
Video: Football from NBC Sports
HBO Real Sports: Bill O'Brien
Penn State football coach and 2012 National Coach of the Year shares the challenges in turning around a program shattered by scandal. Real Sports premieres Tuesday, May 21 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
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