#PennState : A Study in Prestige, Power and the Abrogation of Responsibility

Are we not men? No, clearly we're not.

On a March evening in 2002, Mike McQueary –  then a 28 year old graduate assistant – walked into a locker room at Penn State and witnessed an adult man, Jerry Sandusky, raping a 10-year old boy. This 28 year old, physically imposing adult man doesn’t stop what he sees. He doesn’t step in to save the child further trauma. He doesn’t pull the rapist off the child. He doesn’t call the police. One might assume that as a graduate, he had been taught some leadership skills. Clearly not.

He walks out of the locker room and calls his father.

His father doesn’t tell him to man up, go back in the locker room and stop it. His father doesn’t tell him to call the police and make a report. One might assume a the father of a grown man would have some leadership skills. A sense of responsibility and understanding of the law. No, apparently not. Instead, he tells him to come home and report it the next morning to the head coach, Joe Paterno.

Meanwhile, the 10-year old who has been victimized, who has been raped, is left in the care of the criminal who has just assaulted him. We must assume he’s been pat on the head for being a good boy and dropped off at his underprivileged home.

And they wait until the next day to report the incident to Joe Paterno at his house.  Mr. Paterno does not call in the identified perpetrator and suspend him on the spot and take away his keys. Mr. Paterno does not call the police.  Although he is head coach of one of the most prestigious college football teams in the US, although he has what comes as close to ‘godlike’ powers as anyone can have within his organization, he ALSO shows absolutely no leadership. Instead, he ‘follows procedure’ and calls his superior, Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley to meet with him at his home 24 hours after he has listened to McQueary’s account.

Meanwhile, the 10-year old rape victim has not received any help at all. He is as vulnerable to his rapist as he was 2 days before. He has not received any medical care, not had a rape kit done, not received any counseling. This child is living with this horrific trauma and the world has abandoned him.

Meanwhile, Mr. Paterno is too queasy and sensitive to give a clear account of what McQueary said he saw. Instead he tells Curley that the incident was ‘sexual in nature’ and involved ‘fondling’.

The 10-year old  is STILL vulnerable to further abuse by his rapist. He STILL has received no medical attention, no counselling, no help at all. And the crime committed against him has been downplayed to ‘fondling’.

One and a half weeks later, McQueary is asked to come to a meeting with Curley, the Athletic Director, and Gary Schultz, President of Business and Finance (who has oversight for the campus police) and retells what he witnessed. These men are leaders, right? They are also in positions of power and responsibility, right? And yet, do they instruct McQueary to immediately make his report to the police? No.

They take away Sandusky’s locker-room keys, tell him he can’t bring his charity cases onto the campus, and pass on some information – we don’t know what kind – to Sandusky’s charity organization ‘Second Mile’.

What I would like to make clear is that ALL THESE MEN who held positions of prestige and power utterly abrogated their responsibility as decent, adult humans to this child. And not just to THIS child. By their squeamish, ass-covering, reputation-protecting inaction, they are responsible for what happened to every subsequent child Sandusky assaulted. They were complicit in covering up a vile criminal act and allowing this predator to go on to predate on many other vulnerable young boys.

There are many people who are upset at Mr. Paterno’s dismissal. Sports figures, members of the university staff, students feel that their hero has been treated unfairly. They insist he followed procedure and discharged his legal responsibilities.

Since when was this enough? Since when do we not demand more than the following of bureaucratic process of the people we consider heroes?

Meanwhile, that little boy who was raped had to wait 8 years before what happened to him was brought to the attention of authorities. He is now an 18-year old young man. Study after study shows that children who are victims of child abuse grow up to be very troubled, insecure, self-hating adults with enormous emotional and social problems.

Studies also show that, on average, pedophiles victimize 75 – 100 children before they are caught. More if they are not caught.

Sandusky is a criminal. Luckily someone finally put a stop to his predation. However, he was materially enabled by these men. There in that symbol of American masculinity, that bastion of leadership, that hallowed place so close to the hearts of football fans. Heroes, titans, winners. Not.

This men were reprehensible PUSSIES. Moral cowards of the first order. Despicable in their lack of courage to step in and act decisively when they had eye witness proof that at least one awful crime had been committed on their watch and any intelligent, educated adult would know there was every likelihood this man would carry on committing these crimes.

The fact that so many are puzzled and upset that Mr. Joe Paterno has been held responsible for his inaction speaks to the fact that the so called ‘values’ they hold so dear – courage, fairness, leadership – are nothing more than superficial platitudes.

Paterno, McQueary, McQueary’s father, Curley, Schultz, et al… are examples of how low our standards in what we expect of ‘MEN’ have fallen. None of these people are MEN. They’re worms.

And if you doubt it, please read the grand jury testimony.

My point is that this is not a Penn State issue. I don’t think anyone should cancel football games or even blame the very small minority of Penn State students who rioted. The real issue is that there are many people like this, in power all over the world, in positions of great responsibility. And very few of them would have acted much differently to the way these men acted. Somewhere, somehow along the way, money, status and power have come to mean much more than anything else. More than the welfare of a 10-year old child. More than courage, more than real leadership, more than decent, honourable and lawful behavior.

They are in our athletic departments, our banks, our politics, our churches… we have given these people power and were happy to celebrate their successes, but we have not demanded of them that they behave responsibly.