I don’t usually post on sports or sordid scandals here but the firing of football’s legendary coach Joe Paterno and Penn State’s president, Graham Spanier, over their poor handling of child-sex abuse allegations against assistant coach Jerry Sandusky has moved me to comment.
There are no heroes in this story. Only villains, victims, and bureaucrats. The Washington Post is quite right to draw attention to the victims of Mr. Sandusky’s abuse:
Of all the sins of omission committed by Penn State University in its alleged mishandling of sexual assaults, perhaps the most unforgivable was the failure to find the young boy who was seen being victimized in 2002. It seemed not to occur to anyone to try to identify this child or to consider that he might need treatment and protection. Apparently, shielding the university and its treasured football program came first, and so the boy’s alleged attacker was told simply to keep his activities off-campus.
Here’s their brief summary of the actions in question:
Most egregious was the 2002 incident in which a 28-year-old graduate assistant returning to the football facility was surprised to see the lights and shower on at 9:30 p.m. According to the grand jury, “he saw a naked boy whose age he estimated to be ten years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky.” This would have been a good time to dial 911, but at no point were police or child welfare authorities notified. The graduate assistant told head football coach Joe Paterno, who told Mr. Curley, who brought in Mr. Schultz with the result that Mr. Sandusky was instructed — big deal — not to bring youth to the campus. Mr. Sandusky, his emeritus status at Penn State unchanged, continued his youth volunteer work, and in 2007, according to the grand jury, he victimized another boy.
This is clearly a pattern of behavior on the part of Mr. Sandusky:
A grand jury has indicted Mr. Sandusky on 40 counts, 21 of them felonies, involving the sexual abuse of eight boys, whom he met through his youth-services organization over a 15-year period starting in 1994.
What leapt out at me is how everyone at every step in this sordid episode failed to act with the courage not to mention outrage necessary, from the graduate assistant who witnessed the alleged violation to Mr. Paterno to the university administrators. Doing the minimum, doing the safe, following procedures and channels is not nearly enough.
Called 911? The grad assistant should have pulled the fire alarm. He should have yelled his head off. He should have intervened physically even at the risk of his own safety or career. Honor and justice required it.
But there were no heroes there, allowing the strong and powerful to continue to abuse the weak.
G. K. Chesterton once wrote that the purpose of fairy tales was not to frighten children into believing that dragons exist since every child knows that dragons exist but to convince them that there are heroes who will slay the dragons. We need heroes, not just in fairy tales but in real life and they are vanishingly hard to find.