The first (and hopefully only) job I was fired from was when I was 17. It wasn’t because I was a lousy worker, stole merchandise or I called out sick a lot. It was because I confronted a sexual predator on store grounds. My manager and the store owner have to live with their actions, but to me? I don’t. I slept great the night I was fired because I knew the dirtbag was quivering in his boots and would probably think twice about assaulting another young girl. Here’s what happened:
I was a typical teenager working at a local feed supply store since I was 16. In the summers, I drove around on a truck lugging large bags of feed off the truck into lofts, barns and homes for people that ordered in large quantities. After our daily runs, I worked in the retail store where it was similar to a routine pet supply store. It wasn’t the best job on earth, but the pay was alright and I was used to the work and the people. It was a routine and I’d been there over a year with my parents initially driving me to and from work, and then I drove myself once I had a license at 17. After a while, I started dating a fellow employee who had been there a few years and worked in the retail store.
So, one day I had come back from a delivery run and my then-girlfriend was standing in the aisle all white like she’d just seen a ghost. I asked, “what happened?”. She indicated that a long-standing customer (I knew him by name at the time but have since forgotten) had just grabbed her crotch in the store. She was so stunned by what happened she didn’t know how to react and basically ran away and he then left the store. I knew he was a bit of an older guy and knew he was a regular but that was SO messed up. One of the older women in the store dismissed it, that he was just a “dirty old man”. I said he was a F**d up perve. I said I was going to rip his head off and did my teenager tough guy act for a few minutes until closing time and then went home. I was pretty torqued up, had teenage rage running through me, but I’ve also had a very strong sense of “justice”. Just like when I’d see a kid bullying someone else or an aggressive driver almost run someone off the road – I often felt like they needed to get what was coming to them (I’ve since learned that things tent to take care of themselves…Karma). So, I was intent on teaching this guy a lesson. The next day, I’d cooled down a bit and took inventory of the situation. I was about to head off to college and didn’t need an assault and battery on my record. But I couldn’t let this guy get away with what he did – nor should my girlfriend have to endure seeing this guy each week, feeling like he could act with impunity. Apparently, the incident made its way around the store and the manager pulled me aside and said he’d heard what happened and was bothered by it but put me on notice that I was not to confront this customer in any way, shape or form. I said, “Are you serious? This guy assaulted your employee. You’re going to let him shop here and do this again?”. He said the decision was final and if I disobeyed he would have to fire me.
Within a couple days, the guy came into the store again. I was in the back and another employee let me know he was in the store. So, I pulled the guy outside the store, gave him hell and asked if he wanted to try laying a hand on me. I remember the moment vividly to this day. I pretty much read him the riot act, invited him again to try touching me, and then I noticed he was trembling and couldn’t look at me. This monster that preyed on young women (I am certain this wasn’t the first time he did that) was nothing but a trembling old man. I won’t say, EVER, that I felt sorry for him. But I did recognize that physically assaulting this feeble coward days after the alleged assault would not benefit anyone. It would have been vigilante justice, made me feel like a coward myself for beating up a defenseless wimp, and I may have altered my life permanently. He got into his car and left. I walked back into the store full of employees half-grinning and some in shock that I actually confronted him. Within minutes, the manager pulled me aside and fired me.
He said, “I told you what would happen and you just couldn’t let it go”. I was upset since was the place I’d known and grown accustomed to. But I couldn’t just let it go. I knew what went down, that this basically came down to a big customer that they didn’t want to lose over some hot-headed employee. So, my parting question to the manager was, “Bob, what would you have done?”. He didn’t answer. He put his head down and kept working. So, that was that. I don’t know if this guy went on doing the same thing to other women or if that was the confrontation that scared him straight. And certainly, losing the job at the feed farm didn’t harm me professionally. But it was a defining moment in my life, and probably his too.
What I did wasn’t heroic and it was probably no different than some guy grabbing your girl at a bar or a party – same reaction and outcome in millions of cases each year. Often times, those situations end in a confrontation. But what made this case a bit like the PSU situation was that knowledge of the incident had been circulating around the store. It made it to the manager, then to the owner. And word came back – “Do NOT Act. This is a key customer. Move on“. So, while what I did is routine, what the management there did was basically side with a pervert and put profits over the protection of an employee and young girl. This man sexually assaulted a female (he never denied what he did and there was no motive for her to fabricate the story) and their reaction was to ignore what he did so they could continue to sell him horse food. What kind of priorities did these people have? Well, apparently, the same ones the Penn State folks did.
Let’s Consider an Alternative Ending to the PSU Incident
So, with this PSU situation, upon witnessing a man overtly raping a young child, instead of apparently doing nothing, going home to call daddy, and then reporting it to JoePa, let’s consider how this could have gone down:
- Man enters locker room and witnesses horrific crime being committed against a child.
- Man intervenes, beats the hell out of the perpetrator, saves the child from a life-altering rape, and then notifies police to pick up the beaten body of the pervert.
- Would there have been consequences? Sure, the schools still probably would have had an investigation and there probably would have been some civil damages since it happened on school grounds. But this assistant coach? He would have been a hero. How could the school possibly fire him? He acted decisively, saved a child from future untold horrors, and removed a rapist from society.
The sad irony here is that in covering this up for so many years, not only did this monster go on to assault more children, but the problem has been magnified considerably. The entire football program they sought to protect and the entire college is under fire. Sponsors are dropping their relationships with the college. Top recruits are changing their minds. PSU’s bond rating is under evaluation. This incident could now practically bring down the entire college (at least in terms of reputation and with a huge financial impact) in large part because of the coverup. I repeat – not because of what happened if it were stopped – but because of their inaction.
Now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with money. Well, quite a bit. Why does sexual harassment happen at work? Because someone in a position of power exerts their power inappropriately and people feel intimidated to act for fear of reprisals (job loss = loss of income). Why did this assistant coach not react immediately, fail to call the police, fail to follow through to ensure this never happened again? Because he was looking out for his career. Why did so many at the school and the charity sweep it under the rug? They knew that the fallout would be a major embarrassment to them and their institution, civil monetary damages, and possibly their jobs. Now they’re all jobless. I bet they regret their inaction now.
People make horrible decisions and then later justify to themselves why they did it. It often revolves around career/money. “I’ve gotta provide for my family”. That line has been used to justify everything from Nazi guards committing atrocities to covering up Ponzi schemes to shielding child predators. At the end of the day, you’ve gotta stop making excuses. Surely, at least some of the men with knowledge of the incident had concerns – how did ALL of them stick their heads in the sand? Not only is this a tragic chapter in the lives of so many kids (many now young adults), but let it also be a lesson in human behavior, motivation and ethics. Don’t ever think something is so big and so wrong on so many levels that it couldn’t possibly be covered up. But also know that in time, it almost always comes out.