Ethics And Obligations: A Systemic Failure At Penn State

Before you read any of this, know that it has nothing to do with Cowboy football, has no humor in it, but is something I felt we shouldn't just let go.

By now, I'm sure all of you have heard about the allegations against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. I'm also sure you're wondering why I'm wasting a post to bring it up. After reading the Penn State response I found myself angry. Angry, that people would equate the abuse of a child to mere cheating. I'm not going to directly address the charges against Sandusky, (you can read the entire report here if you choose), but instead the response of the Penn State officials.

According to the grand jury, Sandusky has been allegedly (this is America, and everyone deserves their day in court) abusing children he encountered  through his foundation, The Second Mile, for almost two decades. As horrific as these acts are, they are worsened by the way the university handled the situation. Sometime during 2002 a graduate assistant caught Sandusky abusing a child, and reported the event to Joe Paterno, who then, with the GA, reported to athletic director Tim Curley. The response by Curley and the university is the entire point of this post.

Curley determined (and this may be a point of contention for lawyers to settle) that, instead of a sexual assualt, what was described to him was "merely horsing around". I will not pretend to know what was said or how Curley made his determination, but regardless an authority higher than an athletic director should have been involved. Now, the case can be made that what was done was all that was required by law. If that is true, then the legal requirements in Pennsylvania are pathetic. Curley listened to the complaint, met with the GA some time later, and then, nothing. Beyond a meeting with the GA a little over a week later, nothing further was done. I consider this incredible, considering two facts: Sandusky had been accused of similar acts four years earlier, and Sandusky was no longer employed by the school.

It's this nothing that has me angry tonight, and after the jump I'll try and explain why.

At this point the facts of what actually happened, for the purposes of this post, are irrelivant. An accusation was made that a child was assaulted by Sandusky. Two accusations, actually, one to Curley, and one to Vice President Gary Schultz (who, coincidentally, was also in charge of the campus police). Neither man did more than the absolute minimum required in a "sexual harassment" case. I find it outrageous that two individuals, with a duty to protect not only Penn State, but the surrounding community, made the decision to classify these events as something other than what they are; the repeated sexual assault of a minor. No attempt was made to locate the boy in question, no attempt was made to remove Sandusky from campus (who had no real reason to be on campus, let alone in the locker room showers). For their roles, both Curley and Schultz have been indicted on perjury charges.

The response from Schultz's lawyer is that his client didn't have a legal obligation to report these allegations, and further, even if he did, the statue of limitations expired in 2004. Curley contends that he was not obligated to report to the university President Graham Spanier. Spanier went one step further, voicing his unconditional support for both Schultz and Curley. Paterno, Sandusky's boss for almost four decades, described the allegations as saddening. I will agree with this, it is sad that the three men who had the power to report these allegations and perhaps stop further abuse (Sandusky is accused of assaults as recently as 2009, and was only banned from campus today, November 7th, 2011).

I don't care what legal obligations Schultz did or did not have. I don't care that Schultz believes that Sandusky was horsing around. Ethically they were both obligated to do more. I refuse to believe that Sandusky was so valuable as to be worth protecting in such a manner. It is stunning that he was allowed the access to both children and school facilities after multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior. I believe that perjury charges are inadequate to properly punish these men, and that by their inaction's, they are culpable along with Sandusky. If any of these allegations prove true, Spanier should  be removed from his position for supporting these men, and both Schultz and Curley deserve jail sentences. 

Finally, we have Joe Paterno, who did report the allegations. Regardless of that fact, he is more responsible than either Schultz or Curley. Paterno had the ability to report to the police, the same ability any person has. More than that, he had the power to ban Sandusky from the facilities, to prohibit contact with children on campus. Paterno never followed up on his complaint, and because of that fact a predator was allowed to continue abusing children for 7 more years. Paterno should resign today, tonight, right now. If Paterno is unwilling to do so, and Penn State truly believes it is an institution to be modeled after, the first step is to remove the coach it has known for 45 years. That would probably ruin the season, and while some may feel that wouldn't be fair to the players, I don't care. To allow Paterno to resign after the season, after a few more wins, shows the true nature of Penn State.

Why did I write this during what should be a fun time for Cowboy fans? Because I spent 80 hours this summer chronicling the worst of college athletics, and this is by a wide margin the single worst scandal in collegiate history. True, no one was murdered, no one died, but the failure of a university to protect what they must consider the future, the children of their state, is mind blowing.

I'll leave you with this thought, and I am completely serious when I say this: if a similar situation happened here at Oklahoma State, and the university response was anything less than immediately reporting all allegations to police or some other child welfare agency, I would never support OSU again, in any fashion.

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