I’ve been lucky in the sense that while I’m a definite geek (and a proud one at that) I have not quite reached the level of dork (think of the guys from Big Bang Theory) because of a few important things. Chief among them is my love of sports.
And sometimes, like this past week, the topic of sports becomes more than just scores and the occasional injury. Sometimes, sports news takes a backseat to the people who are involved in them.
It’s hard to imagine that there’s someone out there who hasn’t heard about the scandal involving Penn State University stemming from accusations that former Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky molested young boys on campus and that other school officials knew about it. And then there was the resulting hoopla when a number of those officials, including even the beloved head coach and school institution Joe Paterno, lost their job as a result of the accusations and the possible cover-up. As a result, Sandusky, Athletic Director Tim Curly and Vice President Gary Schultz are all on trial for various offenses.
According to testimony, in 2002 when Mike McQueary (who at the time was a graduate assistant) saw Sandusky having sexual relations with a child in a school shower, he did nothing to stop the assault. He instead called his father and then, the following day, informed Penn State Football Head Coach Joe Paterno. Paterno in turn informed his boss, Curley, who at some point also informed Schultz. At no point did McQueary, Paterno, Curley or Schultz contact the authorities to advise them of what McQueary saw.
Not McQueary, who saw it happening. He just told the coach. Not Paterno, who was the first person of authority at the school who McQueary told. He just told his boss about it. Then both McQueary and Paterno wiped their hands of the matter.
And that is where I think both men, while not breaking any laws, made the most egregious of errors in moral judgment and it’s why I think both men deserve to no longer work at Penn State.
When Paterno was brought into this story earlier in the week, my first thought was, “Why didn’t he do anything about it besides tell his boss?“ I thought the same thing about McQueary as well. While they did what was the legally required minimum of what has to be done, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t notify authorities.
Paterno’s supporters say that he’s a scapegoat, that Sandusky is the criminal and not only did Paterno not break any laws but that he is just being swept away by a tide of over-reaction. They say that the University’s board of trustees came to a conclusion too soon and before all of the details were out.
I asked myself, what would I do if one of my co-workers came up to me and said they saw a crime happen in my office? Would I call the police right then? What if all I did was tell my boss about it, like Paterno did? Shouldn’t I say something if I see that same employee walking around the office days later as if nothing happened? At the very least, shouldn’t I confront that co-worker? Or confront my boss to see why they didn’t do anything.
I sympathize for fans of Penn State and fans of Joe Pa. I feel bad for Joe Paterno. I really do. But I feel even worse for the children who were the alleged victims of these crimes. I feel worse for the families of these children who not only have to deal with their own grief and anger over these events but also must help the victims come to terms with what they experienced.
Paterno had to have realized that when he saw Sandusky around campus and at Beaver Stadium or at other Penn State related events that nothing happened after he informed Curley of what he had been told. He and McQueary both should have immediately questioned someone about what happened after Sandusky was contacted after the scene in the shower was witnessed. Paterno and McQueary were morally obligated to make sure that someone was looking out for the victims, and not for the reputation of the football team or of Penn State.
Paterno may have done some wonderful things in his life, and made some incredibly philanthropical donations to organizations, but his failure to do anything here is tantamount to seeing the alleged rape and ignoring it.
His failure to act has cost him his job. And in my mind, rightfully so. McQueary, who for some reason is still with the team, should be the next to go.
Penn State needs to get rid of everyone who knew about this and now that even McQueary is gone, hopefully that is the case and no one who could have been involved in a cover-up will remain at the University. The reputation of the team may have been irreparably harmed. And Paterno’s legacy is ending in a way that no one could have ever imagined.
Paterno could have done something about this. But he didn’t and that is the crux of the issue. All he had to do is what was right, not just what was required.
Before you pity the loss of Paterno and what it means to Penn State, think of the loss of innocence of the victims and what it means to them.
It makes it hard to think about the team when you think about the people instead.
(NOTE: About 15 minutes after this blog was posted, Mike McQueary was put on paid administrative leave by the interim President of Penn State)