NFL long-snappers generally escape public notice, but the San Francisco 49ers' Brian Jennings is compelling enough to command his own weekly radio show in the Bay Area.
Jennings was especially compelling this week when addressing the sex-abuse scandal that has brought down coach Joe Paterno, rocked Penn State and, most importantly, affected the alleged victims. Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News broke out some of the comments Thursday. I've transcribed all of them and will pass them along in full because the context is important and Jennings was so thoughtful:
"I feel pretty strongly about this and I’ll try not to go off on too much of a tangent because it’s a big deal. I thought of this quote last night from Edmund Burke. It says the only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing. When you look at Joe Paterno, I believe he's a good man, right? And I believe the athletic director is a good man. And the primary emphasis of the outrage should be directed at the perpetrator of these crimes. But at the same time, when you have the opportunity to stop something like this, you have to intervene. You have to.
"It's such a powerful thing because there are a few things that I pray for, and it's not to live a pain-free life or to be rich or to live 150 years or whatever. I don’t pray for that stuff. I pray that nothing bad happens to my family, I pray that I live my life with a certain level of honor and that in that moment when I were in a position that I see something going on that isn’t just a crime against our law, it’s not just a crime against humanity -- this is an evil thing that happened -- that I have the courage right then and the wisdom right now to take action.
"Whoever saw that, that young man that saw that, he was scared to death. He has been scared to death every day since. I don’t want to live with that. I would rather die in the fight than live with not doing anything. That is what I pray for. That is what I pray for all the time.
"I would invite your listeners right now, everybody listening to this, if you know of childhood abuse that is happening, pick up your phone right now and call 9-1-1 and report it. Say, 'You know what, I know a child that is being sexually abused,' and say his name. Just do it right now.
"Everything else will take care of itself. But this cannot be silent. You cannot let this happen and just let it ride. That’s on a religious level. That is on a spiritual level. That is your relationship with your Creator. Good vs. evil. And then when you get into college, you know, now we’re talking about a coach in charge of young men. A coach who is in charge of young men is in a unique position of authority. It is very much like a parent or an adopted parent, maybe, or something like that.
"In a very real way, I give credit to my coaches and teammates for raising me into the man that I am today. And I appreciate that in a very positive way. For them (at Penn State) to betray and to not take care of those kids is absolutely a huge tragedy. Furthermore, not only should they be fired – everyone should be fired, everyone should be criminally charged – it is an amateur sport, their season should be suspended, every win from the moment Joe Paterno knew about this, every game that he has been a part of should be stricken from the record. He cannot be held as the standard. It’s over.
"It only takes one thing to ruin it all. And that is what I pray for, right? What do you do to not let one thing ruin everything? This is that one thing for him. It’s over."
The Penn State scandal continues to generate strong opinions from multiple angles. Jennings' basic premise, elicited in the quote from Burke, resonated with me on a personal level.
Every couple years, I'll visit the California database for sex offenders to see whether the state has released one of my childhood basketball coaches.
The coach was a volunteer through the local parks-and-rec department and in his early 20s at the time. I was 8-10 years old and now have two sons in that general range. Back then, my teammates and I were too young to recognize the coach's now-obvious attempts at grooming children for abuse. The coach would ask for hugs and then hold on for an uncomfortably long time. When he showed up on my doorstep with a birthday present one day, my father threatened the coach strongly enough to end any further attempts.
Years passed, I never saw the coach again or heard anything about him. But when California made available its offender database, I ran the former coach's name through it and discovered he was serving a lengthy prison sentence for convictions including "lewd or lascivious acts with children under 14 years, lewd or lascivious acts with children 14 or 15 years old and annoy/molest children." A notation on his database entry reads, "Registrant has subsequent felony conviction(s) but DOJ has no incarceration information for this felony."
To my knowledge, no one associated with my team saw anything beyond those initial attempts at grooming. There's still a sense, in retrospect, that something more should have been done somewhere along the line. The stakes are so high.