It’s hard to believe I could feel any worse about the horrific situation at Penn State and the allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. But when the trial opened yesterday, to my dismay, matters became even more personal.
One witness, identified as Victim 4 by the grand jury, mentioned me multiple times. He spoke of wearing my jersey and having his photo taken with me. It again brought to mind his name, which originally had come to me when news of this scandal first broke.
Everything that has happened has aged me a few years, as I’m sure it has many others. But now my sadness and disappointment are growing as I realize that I knew this young man fairly well but didn’t grasp the full extent of what he was going through.
He’s 28 now, but I can recall seeing him around all the time when he was a kid, and I built a relationship with him. I always enjoyed interacting with kids. As time went on, I knew he looked up to me and was a big fan, and I made a point of stopping to talk with him. I’d ask him the usual questions: ‘How are you?’ ‘How’s school?’ He always seemed mad or kind of distant. I remember distinctly asking him: “Why are you always walking around all mad, like a tough guy?”
My preconceived notion was that he was part of Sandusky’s Second Mile foundation, so he must live in a troubled home, and I chalked it up to that. I would just tell him to smile every once in a while or laugh, that it would make him feel better. I guess with everything that I had going on, it certainly wasn’t a priority for me to try to figure him out. I saw him at the 1999 Alamo Bowl and shared a couple laughs. I left school for the draft and that was that.
I can’t believe after all these years I’d feel so bad about a kid that I hadn’t thought about since I left school. But of course I do.
As the son of a school teacher I grew up around a woman who always protected and cared for her students as best she could. This was a part of my DNA, so much so that I majored in the same field. I wanted to be a child counselor.
So it’s mind-blowing to realize that a kid I took an active interest in during my time at school was suffering right in front of me and I had no idea that the pain allegedly came from someone in my own football program.
Now I can see it with so much more clarity, but at the time I thought we were his place of refuge from what he was going through at home or in school. As much as I saw and talked with him, I felt, in my own way, I was making a difference in his life.
I hate everything that has happened, and now I must admit I feel even worse, knowing what allegedly was happening so close to me, and that I was unaware.
As a parent, I pray I can come to some peace about this and prepare my family for living in a world like this. I will never just wonder why a child is mad. I will never just assume ever again. I will always ask, and let them know that it’s okay to tell the truth about why they are upset.
My anguish and disappointment doesn’t compare to that of the victims. All I can do is hope that Victim 4 finds this entry and can see that I’m offering my sincerest apologies. I am so sorry this happened.
LaVar Arrington played linebacker at Penn State from 1997 to 1999.