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.

I have been writing and re-writing this post all week.

I started when the prosecution rested, then when the defense rested then again after closing arguments. Now the jury is out and Sandusky’s adopted son says he was also abused.

This case has been heartbreaking to watch unfold. The testimony alleged that this man molested, raped and betrayed the trust of young boys who were in his care, who looked up to him. His behavior fit what is known as the molester pattern of grooming a vulnerable kid, escalating touching and ensuring silence.

The defense was the same lame character witnesses who say things like “I know he didn’t do it because he is such a nice guy” that you get in any trial like this. As if one persons experience of the accused somehow invalidates the possibility of another persons experience. No one really know what people are capable of. Wait, I take that back. We DO know what people are capable of.

We have seen hundreds of Catholic clergy accused of child sex abuse. They of course have a better system for protecting abusers so it has been going on for more than the 15 years Sandusky is accused of. Right now the jury is hung on the Monsignor Lynn case, also a case in Pennsylvania, which is the first time a church higher up has been accused of child endangerment because he allowed pedophiles to stay in the ministry. Its not clear what the implications of this trial will be no matter what the verdict. The status quo cannot be acceptable, and yet sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy rose in 2011 by 15%.

I think part of what has kept me from writing about this again (I wrote about it back in November) is a pessimistic belief that nothing will change. These trials are awful for the vicitims because there is  such a prevailing fear of pursuing false accusations. I know this is an innocent until proven guilty system, but what fuels that fear? Denial? If we pretend that this didn’t happen we don’t have to take responsibility for preventing or stopping it? The idea that anyone would put themselves through a public trial about being sodomized as a child because they thought they could make money off the story is beyond cynical to me, its more like insane.

I think more emphasis needs to be placed on teaching average people how to intervene if they think some abuse is happening and then convince them that they will be supported, as opposed to vilified or doubted, for reporting. We are not nice to whistle blowers in this country.

Whenever friends talk about the case they are outraged that McQueary went to his Dad and then reported to the Coach when he saw Sandusky in the shower molesting a boy. What was his better choice? If he called the police would they even show up? If they did would a report be filed or would Sandusky have talked his way out of it with the same defense used at the trial? Better there was an actual trail of people that he kept telling. It didn’t stop that act, and for that he will likely feel eternal shame, but it might be enough to put a predator in jail for life.

I think it is naive to assume that abuse reported is abuse stopped. Because of this trial (and all those Catholic clergy stories) do people now know how to intervene and make a child safe if they think there is sexual or other abuse happening? Do people know that child services should be called? Is it now clear if you should call 911 for child services or do you call the police and they call child services? It might be helpful if every online story about Sandusky ended with the National Child Abuse hot line 1-800-4-A-Child.

I hope someone learned something from all of this. Not feeling too optimistic at the moment.

The full comment “Well of course you know that, because you’re so political”, was said to me after I explained a joke someone made about the Department of Energy. It wasn’t that esoteric, it was a Rick Perry reference and most people in the room got it. I made the mistake of remarking ‘it was all over the news’ and got the political comment.

I don’t consider myself a political junkie, but I do pay attention and get my news from sources other than Jon Stewart or Fox News. On the other hand, I can name several heads of state that are not monarchs, and know who the secretary general of the united nations is, so maybe I am “political”.

Not long ago I had a different friend accuse me of never doing anything frivolous. I don’t think she thinks this is a bad thing on its face, but it was clear from the conversation that I make her feel inferior somehow because I don’t consume pop culture the way she does.

It all started because I didn’t know Jennifer Aniston was pregnant. (I always figured a pregnancy is none of my business until I get a birth announcement in the mail.) I protested that I do in fact read the occasional “O” magazine or Real Simple, and was informed that those are practically work. Seems I need a Yahoo feed to really know what’s going on in the world.

This struck me as the kind of anti-intellectual sentiment that pops up in the media every now and again. Especially in an election year. Not that I call myself an intellectual. Actually I can’t think of a single “label” I call myself. More to the point, it seems like people view the fact that I don’t watch “E!” or read People magazine as some judgement about the fact that they do.

The only time I care what media anyone besides me consumes is when it’s time to vote. Maybe that’s why I’m considered “political.”

I feel like its kind of hard to miss big news like the Penn State scandal (which will have repercussions across higher education if not US society) or the EU debt crisis (which we are feeling here already). But I can’t really ask folks questions like ‘Don’t you read the newspaper?’, or ‘have you tried NPR instead of the “drive time show?’ because that sounds like a judgement about their media consumption.

But I am curious.

If I am considered a political, intellectual because I read books and pay attention to non-celebrity news, what does that make everyone else? I bet that sounds all judgmental doesn’t it?

It’s sort of like when people find out I’m a vegetarian. They get defensive about what they are eating, or aggressively insist that I can’t be healthy. Yeah, me and roughly 400 million other vegetarians are all starving to death while suffering from scurvy. I digress.

This is another bizarre situation. My being a vegetarian, is not a commentary on your steak. Nor is my reading the newspaper meant to induce guilt over your Live! with Kelly. Enjoy.

It will be 11 months before I give a flying…fig how people get their news & info. Then we can talk about how political I am.

The Penn State scandal is very disturbing on many levels.

That it happened. That it went on for years. That people knew about it and didn’t stop it. That people witnessed it and didn’t stop it. And finally, that people seem to be as angry at the witnesses as they are at the perpetrator.

The anger at the witness is where my mind gets snagged. Continue reading