Watching Saturday’s matchup between the Penn State and Nebraska in Happy Valley, I felt bad for the players, students, alumni and everyone who has looked up to Penn State for what it seemed to stand for: “Success With Honor.” This is a tough time for them all.
Rightly or wrongly, I feel bad for the legendary coach Joe Paterno. His 46-year epic career wasn’t supposed to end this way. While Paterno did what was legally right, by reporting the sexual abuse allegations to his superior, he didn’t do what was morally right, and treat the allegations seriously.
By not doing the right thing, Paterno went against everything he has stood for during his iconic tenure as Penn State’s leading man.
Of course, this column isn’t about football, coaching traditions or fight songs. It’s about everything that wrong and sick in our society. It’s about those boys who were allegedly abused by Sandusky in the most vile and grotesque way, something they’ll have to live with for the rest of their lives. Hopefully they will find the strength and support to fight through the memory of their experiences with Sandusky and go on to lead happy lives.
One of the many horrors in all of this is that we, as society, shouldn’t be surprised that something like this happened. We’ve seen it rip through a host of different organizations in the past, most of which deal with at-risk youth in some way or another. What’s really sad is that we will see this again and again and again. Sexual abuse is not going away. It’s out there. There are a lot of sick bastards. That’s reality.
What I can’t get over in the Penn State scandal is everything that wasn’t done. There were too many opportunities to put a halt to Sandusky’s sickness, and that didn’t happen. And this is at the heart of the matter, as we move forward. This may be the one part of the story that we, as a society, can improve upon.
I am reminded of a time in my past, it might have been in middle school, maybe younger, when guidance councilors and teachers taught us kids not to fight. They described the whole “fight or flight” reaction that we all have within us. When danger is near, our instinct tells us to either run for safety or raise our fists and fight. We were told, by our teachers, as schoolchildren, to cue into that flight instinct and avoid the fights.
I guess the question I’m asking here is this: Have we, as a society, lost our instinct to fight, when a fight is called for?
Throughout the 23-page grand jury report, which includes the testimony of eight victims, there are numerous times when adults chose to flee the situation, rather than fight it. Besides the detailed allegations, the decisions by others to turn a blind eye to Sandusky and, more importantly, to his victims, are what make this case so damn troubling.
Graduate assistant Mike McQueary took perhaps the biggest flight from the situation after he walked into a locker room and reported seeing 10-year-old victim being sodomized by Sandusky. Distraught, he went to his office, called his father and reported what he saw. The next morning, McQueary notified Paterno at his home about what he had seen.
The following morning, now two days after the rape, Paterno called his superior, Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley. Yep, Paterno, the most powerful man at the university, passed the buck. One-and-a-half weeks later, McQueary was called in to meet with Curley, and the school’s Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz; McQueary told them what he had seen, and after that, was told Sandusky’s keys had been taken away. McQueary was never questioned by police.
I think we all know that McQueary should have tried to beat the hell out of Sandusky the moment he saw the rape. At least he should have walked out of the locker room and dialed 911 immediately. Not an hour later. Not the next morning.
And Paterno should have called police immediately upon hearing about the rape. Paterno’s first question to McQueary should have been, “Did you call the police?” Same goes for Curley, and even Schultz. I don’t know if they were trying to protect the integrity of the school or not. I do know each and every one passed the buck to someone else, in a criminal situation. Instead of acting, they fled. Somebody else’s problem, I guess.
And then there’s the janitor Jim Calhoun who walked in and allegedly saw Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy. Distraught, he went and told his fellow janitorial employees. His superior, who testified that Calhoun was shaking and distraught over what he had seen, told him to report the incident, but no report was never made by Calhoun – or by that superior. Two more people who ran from the situation – and I don’t think janitors are getting paid enough to stay silent to maintain the integrity of the school. They, too, ran from a serious situation like cowards.
The report also includes testimony from a wrestling coach who walked in on Sandusky lying next to a boy. Maybe not as blatant as other examples, but still odd. He didn’t report anything to anyone, either. Nobody in this situation took it upon himself to check up on the investigation, to ask more questions…nothing.
Cowards all, they ran, instead of acting. Nobody had the guts to do the right thing at that school, and we will never know why. How do they sleep at night? Have we really lost our ability to react in a proactive way when children are being brutally victimized?
Obviously, this scandal has taken center stage; over the next few months, maybe even years, Sandusky’s trial will take center stage, in a media circus. There will be no silver lining anywhere, unless it’s that this sordid tale of repeated sexual abuse becomes a lesson to us all that it’s never right to pass the buck, when stumbling on vicious criminal behavior. We all have a moral obligation to do what it takes to stop something we know is immoral, cruel, dangerous, sick and wrong.
And then what can we hope for? Not much – just that maybe next time, someone will end the cycle of victimization sooner.