It has become evident (by which I mean there is tangible, readable evidence) that several higher-ups at Penn State University knew there was a problem with Sandusky at least as early as 1998, but they chose political expediency over responsible citizenship and buried their heads in the sand, leaving Sandusky free to continue molesting young people for over a decade after they first learned there was a problem. These higher-ups demonstrated a considerable degree of concern for their own professional fortunes, but no concern at all for Sandusky’s victims. As it turns out, these higher-ups left a considerable paper trail of damning admissions that will probably result in at least a couple of them going to prison when all of the legal wrangling is said and done.
It is not my purpose today to belabor the Penn State situation specifically. Rather, I want to discuss how it illuminates a set of common human failings that help to perpetuate this sort of tragedy.
There has been a consistent pattern throughout the months of revelations in this case: Many people have wanted to admit the truth about only what was completely apparent at a given moment in time. Many of them have publicly implored that we go no further; that we already knew what needed to be known. For example, when Sandusky was first publicly accused, they were quick to denounce the accusers and declare the accusations as bogus, an attempt to smear the name of a man who had done so much good. When evidence against Sandusky began to pile up, they were quick to demand that head coach Joe Paterno be left alone, that there was no evidence he had any culpability in this matter and that any further inquiries along those lines were merely sensationalistic and disrespectful to a man deserving of our veneration.
Once Joe Paterno was clearly implicated as part of the cover-up, many of these same people renewed their demands that further investigation be stopped “now that we know the truth.” The thought that this corruption might go even further in the chain of command at Penn State was either rejected as impossible or rationalized as a witch hunt that would surely do more harm than good with regard to the welfare and reputation of the university.
All of this had led us to the latest revelations, demonstrating that coach Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley, university vice president Gary Schultz, and university president Graham Spanier were all knowing participants in enabling Jerry Sandusky to operate freely for many more years than decency should have dictated. And I have no doubt that some familiar voices are now saying, “Well fine… now let’s punish the wrong-doers and close this sordid chapter as quickly as possible.” Except, of course, that the investigation is only just beginning. We don’t know who else is guilty of what, or what other crimes may have been committed.
So let’s leave those willfully blind apologists alone for a minute and talk about reasonable people like you and me. We knew a long time ago that there was complicity higher up than coach Sandusky. We didn’t have the evidence; heck, I’m just an office worker living in Chicago. But I have a brain, and with even a moderate stretch, that brain could connect enough dots to see a clear conspiracy. Thankfully, the evidence turned out to be there to connect those dots legally.
Let’s keep those brains turned on a little longer and talk about a few more things that we can’t prove, but which are certainly occurring today. For starters, pedophiles aren’t all that rare. It’s not as if we can say “Whew! They caught Jerry Sandusky; our campuses are safe again!” No. There are other pedophiles out there, working with children, working in athletic departments, abusing the trust that has been placed in them. Of course, most people in such positions are trustworthy, honorable people. But not all. Please, folks, heads out of the sand!
Also, corruption in high places isn’t rare either. It requires no flight of fancy to realize that cover-ups along the lines of the Penn State situation have happened before, are happening right now somewhere. The pedophiles themselves will probably not change their behavior based on Jerry Sandusky being caught; history tells us that much. And the people in charge, the enablers, the people who know all about it but have been covering it up – ah, there we may see a change in their behavior. They will look at the Penn State case and say “Hmmm… how can I avoid making the same mistakes; that is, how can I avoid being caught in this cover-up? Well… the first thing I need to do is destroy any old emails or other correspondence that might incriminate me. Next, I have to make damn sure that I am verifiably ignorant of any of this. Ignorance could merely get me fired, but covering up for a pedophile could send me to prison. Pretty easy choice there. No, I’ve got to make sure that there’s a fall guy squarely between me and the perpetrator…”
Rest assured that these people, like the honchos at Penn State, will also depend on the goodwill of longtime boosters and apologists – the sort of folks I discussed earlier, who will refuse to listen to, much less believe, any scurrilous accusations. People like that can be an effective roadblock to uncovering the sordid truth.
Now go ahead – tell me I’m just engaging in a creative writing exercise, that I have no way of knowing that such people are doing and thinking such things today. And I’ll tell you this in response: Yes, I do have a way of knowing that such things are occurring. It’s called a brain. But it requires no imagination whatsoever to envision such people. It requires nothing more than open eyes.
You might wonder why I would take this approach to writing about the Penn State scandal. It could be argued that our focus should be on either the plight of the victims or the direct deeds of the perpetrators. I look at it this way: The mainstream media is focusing on those very aspects of the story, so I see no point in focusing upon them myself. The only way I can contribute something significant to the discussion is by examining a facet that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere. So this is my humble contribution. I appreciate your reading it through to the end!