PROTECT THE SCOUTS, NOT THE INSTITUTION. Scouts are at risk, not just from the sick, twisted creatures who would prey on them – documented in print, on air and online – but from adults who have twisted the truth and continue to excuse the inexcusable if not in fact, in effect. Allowing even one of these monsters a pass, not turning them over to the police, is a monstrous crime in and of itself. And the monster grows even larger, even more dangerous with every revelation of omission and every buried file.
The Boy Scouts of America is an institution. The boy scouts of America are boys. Therein lies the difference. Institutions tend to be large, bureaucratic, slow, secretive, regimented things, defensive of the status quo to the point of combative, fearful of change to the point of destructive. Boys aren’t.
When the interests of the institution and the protection of its image are deemed more important than the interests and protection of children, then the institution is becoming hollow at the core, empty of purpose.
Penn State University can teach the Boy Scouts a lesson here; the Roman Catholic Church can lead them in prayer in this regard.
In sanctimonious discrimination against gays, in violation of the BSA’s special federal charter, the institution publicly addresses a non-threat while real pedophiles caught roaming their campsites are kept private. Gays are no more threatening in the ranks of scouting than they are in the military, no more likely as adults to attack little boys than straight men are to attack little girls.
The Boy Scouts are getting lost in the dark woods of denial. It’s time for boy scouts to lead them out.
In my own years as a scout, a scout parent and a scoutmaster, I never saw, suspected or heard of any of the predatory acts we’ve been hearing about. I did see countless examples of boys learning to become men, of shy and clumsy uncertainty turning into self-assured, self-reliant leadership. I saw them conquer roaring rivers and sheer cliffs and their own fears, walk through mountain meadows and sleep that night on snow-covered summits knowing they can go as high as they want. I saw boys left to their own devices, left to rely on each other and their wits, do things they never thought they could do, build things together they could never build alone.
I also saw way too many adults way too far into their patches and pins, belts and buckles, jackets and jargon. I saw way too many men claiming leadership for leadership’s sake, looking for their own recognition and acceptance at the expense of the boys they’re supposed to mentor – patch-covered metaphors for what the institution is becoming.
While I don’t defend for a second the institution, I do defend scouting, I fear for its loss, and I beg the Boy Scouts of America to come back to boy scouts, to return to base camp.
I’m a Memphian, and my son and I are Eagle Scouts. And we’re better for it.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him firstname.lastname@example.org.