No Heroes

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.

11 comments… add one
  • michael reynolds Link

    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.

    Hear, hear.

  • Hi Dave,

    You managed to capture the essence of the Penn State issue. Many thanks for this post.

    Cordially, Scott

  • jan Link

    A wonderful summary of events, Dave.

    I cannot recall such anonymity of disgust, among all people, relating to this entire Penn State cover-up of this event. One sports announcer, this morning, simply said it was the biggest scandal, in his opinion, to ever hit sports.

    Anyway, well done in how you tied it all together in the scope of your essay.

  • 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.

    This…what a remarkably sad and disgusting story.

  • Drew Link

    Its getting worse, people. Now there are allegations that Sandusky provided boys for rich doners.

    Look, I’ve railed about this for years. Get a clue, people, about big time college athletics. At the risk of a value judgment, its a shame Penn State got caught, because it gets much much worse. Its just a mess. Go to the SEC. Hookers are provided for big time recruits and players. Money. Cars. Jobs. Women. Fill-in test takers. Recently (in the last couple years) it was exposed that a women – supposedly a “trainer” – was available for, ahem, services, at Notre Dame. And on it goes.

    Big Time entertainment is what it is: the NBA, NFL, rock and roll etc. Get yer money for nothing and your chicks for free. At least those are adults.

    But college athletics – and I’m talking football and basketball – has just become a perversion beyond all sensibilities.

    OWS wails about corporate CEO’s…….what about a crooked football coach making $5MM+ per year just so the alums get bragging rights at the water cooler on Monday? Its just sick.

  • Piercello Link

    I’d echo the post and comments above, and add that this could still get much worse, and much wider. Also, props to Drew for “doners,” which as a portmanteau is both unfortunate and brilliant…

  • Drew Link


    LSU and Alabama just played a “game of the century.”

    The rankings going in were #1 and #2. Alabama lost in OT by a field goal. Practically an even game. They dropped to #5. As Verdon says: whiskey, tango, foxtrot !!??

    Its about TV ratings and money, money and TV ratings, and TV ratings and money. Alabama is suddenly #5??? No. The TV people and NCAA need new hype, new fodder, new teams………..TV ratings and money.

    I know people just love their big time college athletics. Me. I can hardly watch anymore. Its a farce.

    Give me golf. Show up at the first tee with your sticks. Tee it up….shut up. Give me your score at the end of 18 holes. No excuses. No tears.

  • Drew Link

    “Also, props to Drew for “doners,” which as a portmanteau is both unfortunate and brilliant…”

    Heh. I use this voice recognition sofware so I can just fly by quickly……it can create amusing things.

    At least I didn’t say dong….

  • Icepick Link

    He should have intervened physically even at the risk of his own safety….

    He should have stayed calm and found a weapon with which to brain Sandusky – there had to be something around in a football locker room.

    Drew, what goes on in the SEC and what happened at Penn State are worlds apart. (Actually, that kind of thing associated with the SEC goes on more in the Big Ten these days – ahem, Ohio State.) The first is official corruption in which the players sometimes get paid – it’s the most fair arrangement in the sport. What has happened at Penn State …..

    Mr. Paterno’s reputation hasn’t been tarnished by this, it has been expsed as completely corroded. “Success with Honor” has been their credo, and they’ve taken great pride in being one of only four (if memory serves) major college football programs without an NCAA violation. But who gives a damn if no football player got free pencils from a booster if the defensive coordinator is raping children on campus with the knowledge and tacit permission of the people in positions to stop it? Paterno’s reputation is shown to be a complete shame at this point, unless almost the entire story turns out to be false. (No, I do not think that is the case.)

  • Icepick Link

    AS for the strangeness with the rankings – well, that has to do with using rankings instead of a playoff system. Under the current system Alabama SHOULD fall down the polls – they had their chance and they blew it. The polls are ultimately semi-infomred guesses. A few years ago Ohio State and Michigan played at the end of the regular season. They were one and two. After the game there was sentiment to have them play again in the title game. If that had happened, Florida would not have had its chance to show that both programs were drastically over-rated.

    Now if there were a reasonable playoff system, then Alabama should be seeded in, and if LSU and Alabama met again in the championship game, so be it. But under the current crummy system, someone else will deserve a chance, unless several teams all fall flat on their face between now and then.

    Plus, in the SEC there is no guarantee that LSU won’t lose before it’s all over. But this is a separate issue.

    If you want to read a great account of the corruption* in college football, read Rick Telander’s book “The Hundred Yard Lie”. Telander (a former college player himself) had been SI’s chief college football writer, until he couldn’t take it anymore. The book was his kiss-off to college football, and it’s brilliant. I imagine you Chicagoans are familiar with the name.

    * Corruption might not mean the same thing to everyone.

  • steve Link

    The guy who found Sandusky in the shower should have intervened right then and there. However, since he did not, I cannot understand Paterno letting this go. Several of us here claim to run small businesses. Would anyone let a report of this kind of activity go with just reporting it to someone? Who wouldnt follow this up until it was resolved? Joe didnt know because he did not want to know.


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