Thursday, November 10, 2011

Young Victims Matter Much More Than Penn State’s Reputation (November 11, 2011)

  Two popular phrases came to mind when I heard about the Penn State sex scandal: “When you see something say something” and “Whatever happens at Penn State stays at Penn State.” The former had not yet come into vogue when the campus incident reportedly took place. And the latter, of course, substitutes the Big Ten school for Vegas, but is quite suitable for the outrage over events at the respectable university.
How could implicated coaches and college executives not earnestly explore a report of an assistant coach seen with a naked, young boy in a school locker room?  After one coach apparently told others he saw something, why didn’t someone call local police?
It is alleged that in 2002 assistant Penn State football coach Mike McQueary witnessed the sodomizing of an 11-year-old boy in the shower, by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky has been charged with several counts of sexual assaults against boys he met through a charity he established to help kids from broken homes; a gross violation of fundamental trust any parent can give another adult.
According to reports, instead of intervening and stopping the abuse or going to police, McQueary went to head coach Joe Paterno. The coach, who, until he was fired this week, helmed the Nittany Lions varsity football team for 46 years, did what he felt obligated to, according to an AP story, and went up the university chain of command. He notified his immediate superior, athletic director Tim Curley, who apprised vice president Gary Schultz and then-university president Graham Spanier. Nevertheless, all three failed to meet even the minimum standard expected of anyone in a position of authority — notify the police.
The only decision they supposedly reached, after McQueary told them what he saw, was to prohibit Sandusky from bringing children onto the campus.
Yes, even after they heard what someone saw Sandusky allegedly do, it seems they casually and inappropriately sanctioned that terrible behavior — as long as it occurred off campus.
And that is the upsetting focal point of the scandal and why Penn State deserves to be penalized — on and off the gridiron.
The cover-up shows a shameful failure of leadership, as well as disregard to an obligation to report any claim of child abuse. School officials may have compounded that neglect in order to preserve the integrity of the school and its respected football program. But maybe, just maybe, if those responsible had not let their minds be overruled by a distorted sense of duty and contacted law enforcement, other boys may have been spared subsequent abuse.
According to several reports, Curley and Schultz not only allegedly failed to report claims of Sandusky’s indecent acts, but, later, also lied about it to a grand jury.
Now, years later, the matter is an embarrassment that tarnishes the venerable reputation of the university, as well as that of its beloved veteran head coach.
How can anyone neglect an accusation of child molestation by an adult? And how shocking was it this week to see hundreds of Penn State students, blinded by Paterno’s prominence, riot over the coach’s dismissal? They ignored the central detail that protecting children from sexual abuse trumps football. Would any of them have reacted in the same way if a son, brother or nephew was a victim of a coach’s abuse?
A sidebar to the scandal, which is not nearly as crucial as the alleged child molestations that led to the dismissal of the legendary football coach and university president, is the mounting fiscal domino effect.
Tens of millions of dollars in annual profits are at stake. According to CNNMoney, Penn State had revenues over $70 million during the 2010 football season, which was fifth among national college programs. The Athletic Department took home another $24 million that came mostly from merchandise sales and sponsorships.
Anticipated donations and scholarships are expected to take a severe hit, too. The latter could reduce opportunities at the school for needy students that could reverberate for years until Penn State’s reputation is re-established.
John Surma, a member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, promised that “we are committed to restoring public trust to our university.”
But before Penn State’s governing board tackles the effects of the fallout from the scandal and how it will change the university’s honor and moral standing, it must be much more concerned with the well-being of the victims. A college and its football program are of little consequence when compared to the vulnerable young boys, whose lives endured a heinous experience and, much more likely, immeasurable emotional damage.
When the Penn State hierarchy learned of the abuse, they should have said something to authorities. Furthermore, what happened at Penn State should not have stayed at Penn State for so long.