Posts Tagged ‘Integrity’

Penn State: When Reputation trumps Practice.

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

For years I counted myself an avid Penn State fan.  I not only graduated from the University but remained a loyal fan for decades.  I truly believe that the endeavor to achieve “Success with Honor” – a byline for the football program – is core to living a life of higher purpose.

That made the recent scandal regarding sexual abuse of minors by the former Defensive Coordinator at Penn State, Jerry Sandusky, so disheartening.  Many parts are overwhelmingly distressing including the amount of “buck passing” that occurred.  In 2002, after Sandusky was caught in the act of sexually assaulting a 10 year old boy in the showers of the Penn State foortball locker room, the head coach, Joe Paterno, reported the incident to the AD, who reported it up the chain of command.  The credibility of the witnesses’ account led to the retired Sandusky being told he could no longer be with children on campus.  At no point were the (a) authorities notified or (b) the parents of the assaulted child notified. This highly limited decision was handed down despite the fact that the University’s own police force had investigated Sandusky in 1998 for a similar allegation.  His sexual proclivities were in fact so well known that even the non-profit founded by him to serve troubled young men – “The Second Mile” - banned him from working with children several years ago!

Reading the story, many, many folks followed a similar pattern of looking the other way.  Another child was assaulted at a local high school.  The parent notified the school which in turn gave the Sandusky the same punishment – he was not to be on high school’s campus.  Neither the parent or the school contacted the authorities.

The question remains, why?  Why do we prefer to often look the other way, a choice that often entails tragic results?

It is because for many the primary values are stability and safety.

We do not talk here of stability and safety in a broader sense of stability and safety for the sake of  the children.  We are talking of stability and safety in terms of the carefully crafted reputation at Penn State as an institution where things are done “right” and where values are held of the utmost importance, and where one can achieve “success with honor.”  The reputation around these markers became gods in and of themselves – idols zealously worshipped and protected. Restated the reputation became more important than the practice.

Hearing the comments defending the actions of the authorities at Penn State deeply troubles me because there appears to be real blindness.  To defend not telling authorities or parents because the alleged assault was not done by a current employee is frankly crazy.   The act occurred on campus, in a privaleged space that was only accessible via Sandusky’s ties as a former employee.  The act of banning Sandusky from being on campus in the company of children speaks to the fact that there was a real knowledge of what occurred.  We all carry a moral obligation to protect children.  As noted by Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan “Call the police immediately.  How difficult is that? It’s not a high standard.”

To close, yes at this point Sandusky is charged with crimes, not convicted.   Regardless however of the final legal verdict, a rather daunting moral verdict has been rendered – not rendered by a judge in a court of law but rendered by actions that put the pristine reputation of a University above the moral imperative of protecting defenseless children.