For the last two weeks, I’ve been unable to view the conflict at Penn State University from every perspective.
The bare, hopefully not-too-graphic details:
– A Pennsylvania grand jury recently returned 40 charges of child sex abuse against Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State football assistant coach. Sandusky is charged with molesting eight young boys over a 15-year period.
Let’s start with Sandusky’s perspective – I can’t even begin to see it. I won’t even speculate on the “why” of it.
I understand “innocent until proven guilty,” but the evidence against Sandusky is astounding. If you’ve got the stomach for such things, Google it. I can’t bring myself to provide any links here.
However, as unthinkable as those alleged acts are, I’m almost equally disgusted by the actions – rather, inactions – of various Penn State administrators, in addition to reaction from many Penn State supporters and others connected to the case.
More perspective: Penn State is located in State College, Pennsylvania, a town with a population around 45,000. Penn State’s enrollment is near 100,000, which is also the approximate capacity of Beaver Stadium, home of the football Nitanny Lions.
In other words, State College is a college football town.
A logical person would expect that the safety and innocence of a child would always come before the legacy of a college football program. However, at least a dozen people had direct or indirect knowledge of some of Sandusky’s actions and did little or nothing to either protect the child being abused or report the situations to the proper authorities. Reportedly, at least two people eyewitnessed two separate incidents and went no further than telling their immediate superiors.
Here’s a few more tidbits that should bother you:
– The children Sandusky allegedly abused were members of Second Mile, a charity for underprivileged kids. Which Sandusky created in the 1970s.
– The judge who last week set an unsecured bond for Sandusky – which means he didn’t have to post bail to be released from jail while awaiting trial – is a Second Mile volunteer.
– At Saturday’s game against Nebraska, a Penn State fan brought a sign with the words “Put abused kids first” and was heckled and threatened by other Penn State fans.
Again, perspective. I can’t put myself in the shoes of any of those people.
Too many folks seem fixated by Penn State’s stature in the world of college football and the legacy of long-time coach Joe Paterno.
There’s another perspective I can’t see. On what planet is a football team’s wins and losses more important than keeping children safe from those who would do them harm?
Then there’s Paterno, Penn State’s head coach for over four decades and involved with the football program for over six. His is a remarkable career that seemed headed toward a soon end even before the Sandusky situation blew up. Now, it’s over, and it’s all because he was aware of at least one incident of child sexual abuse and all he did was report it to the Penn State athletic director.
Legally, it’s the very least he should have done. Morally, it should only have been one of the first things.
Paterno has been quoted to say, “with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.” The incident he was aware of occurred in 2002. Nine years is a long time to wish without acting.
Let this situation be a warning sign for all small towns with one big national calling card, like State College and football. Don’t let one big thing cloud your vision on things that are even bigger.
It should go without saying that protecting children from a known predator should come before the status of a college football program.
Justin McGill is executive editor of The Cadiz Record and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.