When 'adopted' shouldn't be a title
If you follow national headlines at all, then you already know a jury convicted Jerry Sandusky on 45 of 48 counts of child molestation. You probably also recall that his son Matt came forward with his own allegations of sexual abuse -- molestation by his father. Each and every instance of the molestation in the Sandusky trial as a whole is horrible, awful, and should never have happened. But Jerry Sandusky's abuse against his own son, in my opinion, is the worst instance. Short of murder, I can't think of a worse thing a so-called "father" could do to his child.
As you read or watch network news, you may not have noticed something that always comes up in the Matt Sandusky story:
"New allegations are coming out from Jerry's adopted son Matt."
"This time the accuser is one of his six adopted children."
It drives me crazy how many times the word "adopted" is used as a title for Matt. Is there any shame in the fact that he was adopted? No. Is it an inaccurate statement? No, he really was adopted. But the reason it bothers me is simple: His having been adopted has NOTHING TO DO with the story at hand, yet is being used as though it does.
Whether Matt Sandusky was adopted or had been born biologically to Jerry and Dottie does not make the abuse allegations any better or any worse. To me, the implication in using the word 'adopted' for this story is thus:
Jerry Sandusky molested his son Matt, but don't worry -- he was adopted, so at least it wasn't his own flesh and blood whom he attacked and abused.
The aspect that makes his story more heartbreaking is his relation to Jerry: son. That and that alone. The titles 'son' and 'father,' in their truest senses, run deeper than chromosomes. Those words are VERY relevant to the story. 'Adopted' is not.
Notice you've never heard the race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion of any others of Jerry Sandusky's victims. It's for the same reason -- they're all irrelevant to the story. Unless he seemed to specifically target boys who were adopted, that word can go.
I hope my own son always cherishes the love for him, from both us and from his birth mother, that went into his adoption. But I'll never use his adoption as an identifier for him. Even when telling his story, my wife and I say Mason WAS adopted. We don't say he IS adopted. It happened, and he's part of our family. It's not an ongoing event. It's an important part of his heritage, but it's not who he is.
That's why it also grates on my nerves when I hear parents introduce their families by saying they've got two biological kids and two adopted kids.
News flash: you've got four kids. Period.
When the adoption story comes up in conversation, I hope those parents share it eagerly. But please don't set a different category for the two who don't have Mom's hair and Dad's eyes. It doesn't matter.
As a journalist, I'm a gatekeeper to what you hear in the news, and I always have and always will treat that role carefully and with respect. But when it comes to anything that comes out of my mouth regarding the Matt Sandusky story, I will take the word 'adopted' out of the copy. Every time.