I heard about a news story Tuesday that really really disturbed me. It's still a developing story but based on what I have learned I'm pretty freaking angry about what happened. You might want to check out this link first to familiarize yourself with who are the key players in this story. There are several details that have not been explained, many questions that need to be answered, and if they are later revealed, I will be happy to revise my opinions based on the new information. Let me get this out of the way first and foremost: if these allegations are true (and currently, I am inclined to believe they are) the core of the fault lies with Jerry Sandusky. He was the perpetrator of these crimes and deserves all the punishment the law can give him. He was absolutely in the wrong, these were evil acts, and should be condemned most vociferously. But my purpose here is to focus on the surrounding players in this tragic saga.
I am so bothered by the lack of action by so many people, mostly university officials. I have a hard time believing that a man with 40 criminal counts against him, including serial sexual abuse of children, fooled everyone for all those years. People had to have picked up on something being off about him, both at the university and those involved with his charity, The Second Mile, probably others as well. Not to mention, there were at least two instances where individuals witnessed crimes and reported them to others, so some people had the idea in their heads that he might be capable of these acts.
I hate that four different people saw a young boy being attacked by a grown man and did nothing in that moment. NOTHING. They couldn't even muster calling out "Hey! What's going on here?" let alone physically getting involved and stopping the assault? That is the first failure. In that moment, they should have done something to help the boys and stop the abuse. Then moving on, they take the time to consult other, uninvolved people? They didn't call the police right off the bat? Or even in the least, report it to a university official immediately so that the police could be contacted ASAP? In one instance, the janitor told several co-workers and his supervisor, who gave him the information about who to report it to, but he never did make the official report. It was important enough to talk to a supervisor about, but he couldn't be bothered to tell the official? And in another, the grad assistant, Mike McQueary, called his dad and waited a whole day to talk to Joe Paterno? He didn't immediately go to Paterno and say, "I witnessed this crime. It needs to be reported to the police and I am going to make sure that happens. You can either come with me or you can ignore it, but I am taking responsibility for notifying the university and the police." Or something like that. I am okay with him notifying his superiors (and Sandusky's superiors) at the university, but he needed to take ownership of notifying the police. He was the witness, he needed to make the report. If there were university policies in place that were set up so that he couldn't report it directly, then Penn State needs to seriously examine them and truly re-evaluate whether they are correct and moral.
No football team, player, coach, or university's reputation is worth a child's life being destroyed. Self-preservation is an instinct, but we have high-functioning brains that should allow us, nay should compel us, to overcome the desire to place our careers or comfortable lives above a child's welfare.
So now, the assault has been reported to Joe Paterno, venerable, beloved coach who has emphasized
"Success with Honor" for years, and what does he do? He simply calls the athletic director and leaves it there. He doesn't try to follow up? He doesn't give the AD the same speech that I wish McQueary had given him? Did he even encourage the grad assistant to go to the police? Or did he tell him to hush up and wait to be contacted? To not risk Penn State and Paterno's reputations by breathing a word of it to anyone? Is it possible McQueary was threatened, either explicitly or implied, to leave it alone or risk ruining his career and his own reputation? Did Paterno even recognize that a terrible crime had been committed, on Penn State property, or did he only see warning lights flash in his head and do the least he was obligated to do out of a misguided effort to guard his legacy? Or conversely, was McQueary offered, again either outright or through implication, a more secure career, a speedier trajectory up the ranks, if he was quiet? (Not punishment for speaking out, but reward for not.) How did McQueary continue to work there, knowing Sandusky was still around and nothing ever came of his report? What does that say about his moral character?
From what I have read, Paterno fulfilled his legal obligation. Fine, I accept that he has and is not guilty of a crime. But his lack of follow up, his lack of seeking out the truth, his utter lack of getting the hell rid of Sandusky, kicking him off the campus is so appalling. It seems clear to me that he placed his football program's reputation above children's safety. From what Mark Madden of Beaver County Times said, "Did Penn State not make an issue of Sandusky's alleged behavior in 1998 in exchange for him walking away from the program.... Did Penn State's considerable influence help get Sandusky off the hook? Don't kid yourself. That could happen. Don't underestimate the power of Paterno and Penn State in central Pennsylvania when it comes to politicians, the police and the media." How scary is it that the police, the very people we trust to serve and protect us, can be pushed around and influenced by a football program? Paterno may have fulfilled his legal obligation, but he came nowhere close to doing his moral duty. Once an eyewitness came to him, explaining what he had seen, Paterno should have made sure an full investigation was done and that the truth was found out. He should have had that goal and pursued it, even if only for peace of mind. If the allegations brought by McQueary were false, why would you want him to continue working for you? If they were true, why would you want to continue any sort of affiliation with Sandusky, let alone granting him access to the campus facilities where these crimes were perpetrated?! No matter what the truth was, something was wrong here, and Paterno should have wanted to find it out and take the necessary actions.
Once the report was made from Paterno to the Athletic Director, again, why weren't the police called? I don't see how in this type of circumstance the university can think it has the resources, biased or not, to conduct a fair and thorough investigation of this magnitude. These were crimes. Not NCAA violations that may result in fines or suspensions. Crimes. Violations of state laws, punishable by lengthy prison sentences. Those laws are enforced by the police, violations thereof are investigated by the police. Now several Penn State officials are facing criminal charges of their own, not just for failing to report the abuse, but some are facing perjury charges as well. They are accused of lying to the grand jury. I'm just venturing a guess here, but I doubt they were lying in order to make Sandusky look worse.
I was watching an program on ESPN Wednesday afternoon (I believe it was NFL Live) where two former NFL players were commenting on the story, by having the question "Should Joe Paterno coach this Saturday?" posed to them. (This was prior to Paterno's firing, but after his announcement of retirement.) Marcellus Wiley answered first, saying yes he should coach, and then went on to liken this 'scandal' to teammates who "have indiscretions off the field" and how it was important to support them during difficult times like that. Mark Schlereth said no, absolutely not, even went as far to say that Penn State should not even play on Saturday. I was taken aback by that, but also very impressed. I don't know that Penn State shouldn't play, but I agreed that Paterno should not coach and when I heard about the firing later in the day I felt it was the right call to make. But seriously, Marcellus, these accusations are not of mere 'indiscretions'. The rape of a child is not the same as getting caught with a bag of weed or a hooker or even just having an affair. This was not a mistake made in the heat of the moment, like slapping your spouse in the middle of a furious argument. These are severe crimes against children. This is not a time to circle the wagons and offer your support. This is a time to bring the truth to light and if crimes were committed, you need to stand with the victims, stand with the right, not give 'support' to the perpetrator.
When stories like this come to public knowledge, you hear this line a lot, "Nobody knows what they would do in that situation." What a pathetic excuse. You see a crime, an sexual attack, being committed against a child, by an 55+ year old man, and you, a strong 28 year old football player/coach can't do anything about it?! Here is what I think every responsible, moral person person should do for themselves. As a youth, I was taught in my church classes to decide now what I would do in a given situation; if I was asked to do something that I knew was against my values. By thinking about it and deciding my answer ahead of time, I would be prepared when/if that situation came upon me and not have to think about it in the moment. I challenge everyone sit down and think about what you would do if you witnessed such a crime. Decide now that you would do something to stop it, in that moment, and that you would report it to the police as soon as you could. Then if, heaven forbid, you come upon such a situation, you can just act and do the right thing.
This whole situation is infuriating to me. I am appalled that so many individuals thought of themselves first, and due to their lack of action, more young boys were attacked and abused. I can't believe Sandusky was still allowed access to Penn State facilities even after accusations had been reported to school officials. I am glad that those in power who failed to report these crimes are being fired from their jobs and facing criminal charges. I don't understand why students are protesting Paterno's dismissal, and why in heaven's name they think destruction is the way to get their message across. It is beyond disturbing that the image and reputation of a university and it's football program were consistently placed above the welfare and needs of children. These were major moral lapses by so many people and, while I wholeheartedly believe in repentance and forgiveness, I hope they are now suffering major guilt and will forever try to repair the damage they allowed to happen. This series of crimes could have been stopped several times, victims could have been saved, and for that to have not happened is a tragedy in and of itself.
As this story develops, I am reading more articles about it. I encourage you to read this one by Jemele Hill and this one by Howard Bryant. If I have any of my facts wrong, please let me know (include sources). I want to be completely accurate.