Blowing the cover off the Penn State football program, 84-year-old legendary coach Joe Paterno profusely apologized for the sex abuse scandal that his rocked the university and indeed all of collegiate sports. Paterno, whose retirement has been rumored for years, announced his retirement, then was abruptly fired by Penn State’s Board of Trustees for complicity with the child sex abuse charges against former assistant coach and defensive coordinator, 67-year-old Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky retired in 1999 but not after molesting scores of young boys involved with Penn State’s youth-related activities. “I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case,” said Paterno, announcing his retirement. “I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief,” sounding more like a priest dealing with the Church’s clandestine sex abuse scandal.
Pedophilia has been in the news in recent years more in connection with the Catholic Church, a known magnet for child molesters. While the Vatican insists on celibacy for its priests, human nature usually prevails with artificial prohibitions against basic instincts, especially sex.. It’s not that farfetched to imagine what happens when you take testosterone-driven young men into the priesthood and force them into celibacy. So far, Pope Benedict XVI rejects all calls for lifting the Vatican’s celibacy rule. Whatever the aberrations that stem from celibacy, or, for that matter, the types of individuals gravitating to the Church, the Vatican insists celibacy must continue. National collegiate athletic programs aren’t the typical places in which pedophiles find safe havens. No one knew that Sandusky’s 33-year run at Penn State would be filled with illicit sex with underage boys.
Because of strict state child abuse reporting laws, educators or employees in academic settings are mandated by law to report suspected incidents of child abuse. A two-year State College grand jury revealed that Sandusky molested eight boys over 15 years that were brought to the attention of Penn State officials, including Coach Joe Paterno. All the incidents occurred in Penn State’s charitable organization called “The Second Mile,” an outreach group for troubled boys. Pennsylvania state police arrested Sandusky, Athletic Director Tim Curly, Vice President of Finance Gary Shultz, all charged with failing to report child abuse to the proper authorities. Since Paterno and University President Graham Spanier also failed to report child abuse to the appropriate authorities, both must also pay the price. Firing both Spanier and Paterno doesn’t shield them from criminal prosecution.
Pennsylvania’s state laws are very explicit about school personnel taking decisive legal action against anyone suspected of child abuse. Paterno’s firsthand knowledge of Sandusky’s perversion makes him even more culpable than former University President Spanier. After Sandusky retired, he was given free access to Penn State’s sports facilities, including the infamous showers where he fondled an unknown number of underage boys. “He admitted to taking the shower, he admitted to some extent something had happened,” said a mother of one of the molested boys. “He [Sandusky] asked her for forgiveness. He said ‘I probably won’t get it from you,’ and then he said ‘I wish I were dead,’’ said the victim’s mother. Curly and Shultz told Spanier that something inappropriate had gone down in the sports center’s showers, unsure whether the police had been contacted.
With statues, buildings and streets named after Paterno, some elements of the Penn State student body rioted last night at the thought of sanctions against their legendary coach. Pennsylvania authorities cannot apply child abuse reporting laws selectively, throwing Curly and Shultz in jail but sparing Paterno and Spanier. Countless numbers of young boys lost their childhoods and were damaged for life by the contributory negligence under Paterno’s authority. It’s not enough that Paterno went to Spanier and made an executive decision to cover-up Sandusky’s shenanigans. Penn State’s Board of Trustees must do more than fire all the related parties. Anyone complicit, including Paterno and Spanier, in not reporting child abuse to appropriate authorities must be prosecuted. Only then can there be a silver lining to the most hideous scandal in NCAA history.
Penn State’s child sex abuse scandal could happen anywhere where a good-old-boys’ network trumps the law and promotes a cover-up. No one wanted to face the same problem inside the Church until victims stepped forward and lawsuits flowed like a tsumani. Tearing up the campus, student rioters misdirected their ire over Paterno’’s firing. University officials have no choice but to purge the campus of anyone remotely associated with Penn State’s darkest chapter. Like the Catholic Church, lawsuits will eventually follow, presenting a mammoth economic challenge for the university and the state. While it seems like overkill, Paterno, Spanier, or anyone else remotely tied to Sandusky’s perversion, must all pay for skirting the state’s mandatory child abuse reporting laws. No one should ignore the law or skirt the responsibility of protecting innocent children.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operaiton Charisma.