There would have been a time when I would have avoided reading about it, let alone writing about it. It seemed the moment my first child was born, I could no longer stomach seeing or hearing any news story that involved something bad happening to children. I would click off the TV or not click on an internet link from the mere mention of some child atrocity.
So on Monday morning, I’m not sure what possessed me to read an online article about the incredibly sad, incredibly infuriating and incredibly devastating news out of Penn State University. I had seen enough passing headlines to know the general “scandal” – a former coach of the PSU football team had been accused of molesting children. That’s what the headlines told me.
As read on, I found myself becoming angry. And at the same time my heart sank thinking about these poor children. Reading the graphic detail of what this monster Jerry Sandusky did to innocent, trusting, kids tore me apart. I can’t imagine the fear and confusion they lived with at that time. I can’t imagine the pain and anguish they have lived with since. I would imagine it’s pretty much impossible to live a “normal” life after that?
What took this heartbreaking story to another level was the fact that other adults became aware of this situation and essentially did nothing. A graduate assistant actually witnessed it. Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was made aware of it and all he did was pass it along to his boss. None of them called the police. None of them confronted Sandusky.
Sandusky’s (alleged) deplorable behavior wasn’t relegated to this one isolated incident. There are reports that as many as 20 – possibly more – were sexually molested by him. Many of them after the incident first witnessed by the grad assistant.
My first thoughts were that I was reading something wrong. How could someone witness and be aware of such a vile thing involving a child and essentially do nothing?
I’ve read many people say that it would be impossible for them to see or know of such a thing without wanting to literally kill Sandusky. I have children around the same age that Sandusky violated. The thought of someone even doing something remotely close to what he did to my children, invokes homicidal feelings in me, as well.
Joe Paterno is the winningest coach in college football history. In fact he won his record 409th game just a couple of weeks ago. He’s coached Penn State since the 1960′s and his reputation has been stellar as both a coach and leader of men. His program has been lauded for doing things the right way and has escaped the pitfalls that have hit pretty much every major college sports powerhouse.
Yet, how could someone who seems like such a “good guy” basically turn his back on helping a child? How could he go about working, living normally, regularly interacting with Sandusky without ever confronting him. Without ever calling the police? It’s been noted that Paterno fulfilled his minimal “legal” obligation by telling the police, but he failed colossally (with devastating consequences) by not fulfilling his moral obligation.
And that’s where I got even more frustrated. Sandusky’s behavior is unquestionably deplorable. Paterno and the other’s lack of action is a different form of awful behavior. Because it’s one thing in the heat of the moment or the pressure of a situation, to make the wrong decision. It’s another thing, to look the other way, to ignore it and to worry more about your football program’s reputation than to worry about ruining the life of a child. To say silent for basically a decade.
So when Paterno initially said he didn’t know all the details (if you’ve read what he said he did know, you would want to scream “You knew enough!!!), it was an attempt to cover his butt – just like fulfilling his legal obligation of telling his boss. I don’t know if it was ignorance, arrogance or cowardice that led Paterno and the others at the school to do nothing?
I was asked about this situation at work and my response was this – now that we know what we know. Now that we are here. Now that we can’t take back what was done to those children. We can’t erase from their minds the horror they endured. We can’t restore their innocence. I just want those who did nothing to “man up” and just say, “I was wrong.” Say, “I worried about my own reputation, about winning football games, about my school’s reputation, more than I did about protecting children.” That, “What I did was inexcusable and wrong, but today I want to do the right thing.”
It’s sad that Penn State’s president and Paterno never owned their part in this horrifying situation. They either studio in silence, minimized their role or stood behind legal mumbo-jumbo. Paterno had the gall to try to go out on his terms saying he would retire at the end of the season. Penn State’s Board of Trustees finally did the right thing and fired both men last night.
They noted that athletics are not bigger than the school. And in turn they essentially said, winning football games, protecting the image of their school or the reputation of their legendary coach, wasn’t more important than people … than children. They did the right thing.