Its really hard to miss the coverage of the damning evidence uncovered about Joe Paterno’s complicity in the Penn State sex abuse scandal. I even read the sports page today to see what would be said now that it was clear a winning record does not, in fact, absolve sins.
Many people are still reluctant to allow that “one act” to interfere with their hero-worship, even though it turns out that “one act” was a 13-year cover-up. His family released a delusional, if expected, statement about what Paterno would have done “if he had understood what Sandusky was”. Of course Paterno never actually talked to Sandusky about his actions or the allegations, so he never had to understand. Pretty typical denial behavior, followed by a denial of the deniers intentions. This snake could eat its tail all day.
I have written about Sandusky and Penn State before. There are many, many problems with how all the adults behaved from 1998 – 2001 when Sandusky was finally instructed not to shower with children at Penn State, not the least of which is the fact that no one – Paterno, the university President, Athletic Director or the VP – thought to protect a single child. The culture that made this not only possible but expected is what should be under scrutiny now.
Its not just about football, its about power and fear. Doing the right thing is punished as often as its rewarded. Even if its not public whistle blowing, coming forward after the fact like Roger Boisjoly, the messenger usually experiences retaliation. When the janitors and McQueary saw criminal behavior being committed against a child, they knew they were in a culture of power and protection. And in that culture, weighing their own risk, they had to make a moral decision. At least McQueary rattled the lockers to make Sandusky stop that one time.
How do you shift a culture like that? Those janitors knew without a doubt they would be fired if they said anything against the Sandusky or made the football program look bad. I know McQueary didn’t do all he could but he did something.
Will Penn State be forced to advertise their ethics Hotline? Will anyone use it? These Hotlines are usually so buried that workers have to be truly motivated to find the number, understand how to be anonymous, make a report and then follow up that it was investigated. Will they find a way to support the reporting of child abuse? Educate their students, staff and faculty?
More importantly will they go beyond a Mea Culpa to transform what they expect ethically of everyone at the institution? As of July 12th Mike McQuery is out of a job.
There’s a start.