joe paterno, penn state

Sins of Omission: Paterno, Penn State

November 8, 2011
Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Joe Patern...

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By now, most the country has heard about the shocking revelation that former Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had inappropriate sexual contact with children associated with his foundation, The Second Mile.  Sandusky is accused of sexually abusing several, possibly 20, boys from 1994 to 2008.  A three-year grand jury investigation revealed that several Penn State administrators knew of Sandusky’s actions but did not report it. Penn State officials Tim Curley and Gary Schultz appeared in court yesterday to answer charges of lying to the grand jury.

Sandusky’s action, as reported by the grand jury investigation, are appalling.  What is almost equally shocking is that it appears that people at Penn State knew of at least one case of abuse and failed to act. A graduate assistant coach, Mike McQueary, witnessed Sandusky engaging in inappropriate contact with a boy and the assistant coach reported it to head coach Joe Paterno:

Paterno said in a news release on Sunday evening. He suggested that what McQueary told him in 2002 of the shower incident was so nonspecific that he was unaware that Sandusky was allegedly performing a sex act with the boy: “It was obvious that the witness [McQueary] was distraught over what he saw, but he at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the grand jury report.”

However, according the report, Paterno did “relate” very specific actions.  After hearing the news, Paterno called his boss, Tim Curley the athletic director. A boy was being molested. How much specificity do you need? According to the attorney general we discover that:

The assistant [McQueary] telephoned Paterno and then went to Paterno’s home to explain what he had seen. Paterno testified that he then called Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley and met with Curley the following day, explaining that a graduate assistant had reported seeing Sandusky involved in a sexual activity with a young boy in the showers at the Lasch Building… there is no indication that anyone from the university ever attempted to learn the identity of the child who was sexually assaulted on their campus or made any follow-up effort to obtain more information from the person who witnessed the attack firsthand.”

Based on the above news release and what was in the grand jury report, Paterno is clearly covering for himself.  And that is what everyone is doing, covering for themselves.

Being a former collegiate athlete, I understand the world of college sports. Stereotypically, people think all athletes get a pass for everything. This is simply not true.  Not all athletes receive special treatment. There are college programs that are centered on honor and integrity. Penn State’s programs were always about integrity. However, Penn State seems to have broken that integrity as powerhouse of legacy and football.  Based on reports, many at Penn State, by their inaction, wanted to protect the program over protecting several children. Including Joe Paterno.

Legally, Paterno may not face charges, but he and Penn State must face questions.  Why didn’t Paterno, Curley, McQueary, or Schultz go immediately to the police?  Why did administrators wait a week and a half to confront Sandusky? Why didn’t the school try to learn the victim’s identity?

Most likely, everyone was scared. Scared to confront a successful coach, a successful school, and a successful football program.  Penn State’s huge failures led to children being abused.

There is such thing as a sin of omission: not acting to report child abuse. By not calling the police immediately, several people at Penn State failed to act and therefore share responsibility. Joe Paterno, knowing what he knew, must answer these questions and share responsibility.

The law in Pennsylvania may not require to college coaches to immediately report child abuse, but our conscience and our shared morality tell us to.

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1 Comment

  • Redcanoe4 April 14, 2012 at 8:23 am

    Accountability. If our society begins to hold people accountable for their lack of ‘doing the right thing’ it would
    send a much needed message. Joe Paterno being held accountable would be a powerful message to stop the ‘good old boys’ favor network that plagues our society. If the people with knowledge, who chose not to stop the crime, are prosecuted, we as a society are saying this is unacceptable.
    We as a society, tolerate bad behavior. Until we stop tolerating bad behavior we invite it to happen. If Joe Paterno & Penn State get a slap on the wrist for their part, the larger message to society is the good old boys network prevails.
    We sent Martha Stewart to jail. Everyone involved should be punished for their choice to go along. Popularity vs doing what was right.

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