Commentary: Joe Paterno, Herman Cain, Men, Sex and Power

In the wake of Joe Paterno's firing for an inadrequate response to charges of child molestation by an ex-staffer, and the accusations of sexual harrassment against Herman Cain, the time has come for men let go of the ego trips before some of us hurt more women, more children, and more of ourselves.

Joe Paterno. Herman Cain. Penn State football. Presidential campaigns. Men. Sex. Power. Women. Harassed. Children. Abused.
These are some of the hash tags that have tweeted through my mind nonstop as multiple sexual harassment charges have been hurled at Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain; as Jerry Sandusky, former defensive coordinator for Penn State’s storied football program, was arrested on 40 counts related to allegations of sexual abuse of eight young boys over a 15-year period. Sandusky’s alleged indiscretions have led to the firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno and Penn State president Graham Spanier, plus the indictments of athletic director Tim Curley and a vice president, Gary Schultz, for failing to report a grad assistant’s eyewitness account of Sandusky allegedly having anal sex with a ten-year-old boy in a shower on the university’s campus in 2002.
What all these have in common is the issue of power and privilege we men not only wield like our birthright, but which has come to be so inextricably linked to our identities. So much so, in fact, that many of us, regardless of race, class, religion and, in some cases, even sexual orientation or physical abilities, don’t even realize what a disaster manhood is when it is unapologetically invested in power, privilege, patriarchy, sexism and a reckless disregard for the safety and sanity of others, especially women and children.
Yesterday it was priests of the Catholic Church, Anthony Weiner and Charlie Sheen. Today it is Herman Cain. A report was recently published that said over 90 percent of sex scandals in America feature us men as the culprits. Very few women engage in that mode of self-destructive behavior.
The question begs itself: Why not? I feel it has to do with how we construct manhood from birth. Most of us boys are taught, basically from the time we can talk and walk, to be strong, tough, loud, dominating, aggressive and, yes, even violent, even if that violence is masked in tales of war or Saturday afternoon college football games. Without anything to counteract that mindset like, say, that it is okay for boys and men to tell the truth, to show raw emotions and vulnerability, to cry, to view girls and women as our equals on every level.
If any good can come of the Cain and Penn State disasters it is my sincere hope that spaces and movements are created, finally, where we men can really begin to rethink what manhood can be — a manhood where we men and boys understand that we must be allies to women and girls, allies to all children, and be much louder, visible and outspoken about sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse and molestation. Knowing that if we are on the frontlines of these human tragedies then we can surely help to make them end once and for all, for the good of us all.
That means time for some of us to let go of the ego trips and the pissing contests to protect bruised and battered egos of boys masquerading as men. Before it is too late, before some of us hurt more women, more children and more of ourselves, yet again.
Kevin Powell is an activist, public speaker and author or editor of 10 books. His 11th book, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: And Other Blogs and Essays, will be published by in January 2012. You can reach him at, or follow him on Twitter @kevin_powell. A full version of this  blog can also be read here.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

(Photos from left: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images, Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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