Moral Crime and Punishment

What are we doing?

As a society, what in the name of all that is holy are we doing?

There is a lot of anger about what’s happening at Penn State University this week. I am a lifelong Penn State fan, a loyal and devoted supporter of head coach Joe Paterno. And I think he needs to pack up his office and leave the campus right this second.

Part of the anger that’s brewing is over whether Coach Paterno should really be taking the heat that he’s taking right now. I understand that there are people who believe that he shouldn’t be fired because he didn’t break any laws. When I first heard about the sickening charges against retired coach Jerry Sandusky, I was heartbroken. When I read the 23-page grand jury report, I was outraged.

Read it. It is not easy. In fact, it’s terrible. And that is why you should read it. Because as a society, we have stopped forcing ourselves to confront and believe that which is unpleasant to us, that which is horrific. And that is why we let these things happen over and over and over.

Legally, Paterno didn’t do anything wrong. When Mike McQueary (the unnamed “undergraduate assistant” who witnessed Jerry Sandusky sodomizing a young boy in a PSU facility shower room) told Coach Paterno what he saw, the coach notified the head of the athletic department, Tim Curley.

The grand jury’s report implies that McQueary and Paterno did nothing else.


And that’s not illegal.

AD Curley took the report to Gary Schultz, a vice-president of the university in a department that oversees the athletic department. Schultz took it to the president and reported it to The Second Mile, the charity organization founded by Sandusky in 1977 to work with at-risk youth in Pennsylvania.

It is the organization from which Sandusky chose his victims; all nine that prosecutors know of… all nine children from at-risk backgrounds who may not have had the support, the family, the sense of self, let alone the age and wisdom to know what was happening to them and to refuse it or report it. Eight of them testified in accounts detailed in the grand jury’s report. The ninth is stationed overseas in the military and unavaialable for deposition or testimony, but the grand jury knows his name.

Sandusky’s first run-in with the law was apparently in 1998, when someone reported him for sexual impropriety with a child. McQueary watched him rape a boy in 2002. A janitor saw him do it again, with another boy, years later. The grand jury’s investigation began in 2008, nine years after Sandusky retired from PSU (he retained privileges at the facilities). That was also the year that a high schoool administrator called police about an incident witnessed at the school with a student who had been part of Sandusky’s Second Mile organization.

All those years. All those children who didn’t have to suffer, if someone had called the police instead of his own boss.

When called upon by the grand jury, Coach Paterno and Mike McQueary testified as to what McQueary said he saw that day in 2002. McQueary told the grand jury that he had reported the matter to Paterno and that he had also had a separate meeting with Schultz and Curley, at which Paterno was not present. He testified that he told Curley and Schultz the same thing he had told Paterno.

When Curley and Shultz testified, they told the grand jury that McQueary had told them he was “uncomfortable” with what he saw, which they say he classified as “horsing around” – nothing sexually inappropriate.

Schultz and Curley are now under indictment, charged with perjury and failure to report the crime. Their defense attorneys are arguing to have the failure to report charge dropped, because the child in question was part of the Second Mile, not a PSU program, and Sandusky was acting as a staff member for the Second Mile at the time, not on the clock with Penn State; therefore, under the law, the obligation to report the crime falls to the Second Mile. Since Curley and Schultz had notified the organization of what McQueary reported, their legal obligation was fulfilled.

Convenient, isn’t it? That a Big Ten school with a legendary football program captained by a coach who’s been there for 60+ years would not be obligated by the law to report to police that Mike McQueary saw Jerry Sandusky raping a young boy in a Penn State facility. It’s a nice way for PSU to protect itself from scandal. At least, it was. And I think they knew it. I think Mike McQueary knew it, so he called his father, who told him to call Coach Paterno, his boss. Coach Paterno knew it, and that’s why he called his boss instead of the police. Tim Curley knew it, and that’s why he called Gary Shultz instead of the police. Gary Shultz knew it, and that’s why he called the Second Mile instead of police.

The janitor? The janitor was a troubled soul already, rocked by his memories of Korea, shaken so badly by what he witnessed that coworkers thought he might have a heart attack. He told his boss, too, because he didn’t know Sandusky’s name, and he was afraid he would lose his job if he blew the whistle. He saw Sandusky sitting in his car in the parking lot later and told his boss, “that’s him!”

His boss told him who, at the university, he could talk to about it.

That janitor is now suffering dementia, living in a nursing home, unfit to testify.

A fellow blogger (and I’ll not name her here because I don’t want people to get upset with her and go comment on her page) suggested that the problem is with the law; that if we want to hold people to a higher standard, our laws have to do so, as well. I don’t agree. The law cannot stop all that is horrible from happening. It cannot legislate morality. I think if we want to hold people to a higher standard, we have to stand up with the courage of our convictions and tell them in no uncertain terms that they were wrong. That, to hell with legalities and technicalities, what they have failed to do is the grave offense.

Who is more culpable: the man whose criminal sickness perpetuates his behavior for as long as he can get away with it… or the men who let him get away with it longer?

Nine children suffered, some of them for years. And there are likely more. Six grown men, four of them powerful, each knew about at least one of those children. Nine years went by since Mike McQueary saw Jerry Sandusky with the boy in the shower.

And the clock kept ticking.

I want Joe Paterno out of his office today. I want Mike McQueary out of his office today. I want everyone who ever knew Jerry Sandusky had done something sick and terrible to a child out of their offices, today. No Nebraska game this weekend. Go home. You’re finished here.

I am so terribly disappointed and heartbroken by this group of people I admired, this group I cheered, this group that was charged with shaping the lives of young men, who let the lives of young boys count for nothing.

The moral crime is willful ignorance. Verdict: Guilty. Every one.

23 thoughts on “Moral Crime and Punishment

  1. Superlative, as always! Thanks for writing it.

    I mustered the courage to read the report this morning, and I felt drained afterward. You’re right — everyone needs to read it. Parents, especially. I’m going to post it on FB tonight, with that recommendation.

    The only other thing I can think to say is, if one sees a rape in progress, one should, for God’s sake, step in and put a stop to it.

    • Yes, it’s difficult to understand why McQueary didn’t step in, make a noise, give some indication that he was watching. And it’s difficult to understand why the janitor didn’t, either. We can all ask what we would do in this situation, but to do nothing but call your boss… I can’t understand that. I get the motive: protecting the program, or maybe even a blind refusal to believe it was really happening. But now, I can’t believe any one of those men could see this happening now, look back at their own inaction and try to keep their jobs for another day.

      • Allegedly, both Sandusky and the child saw that McQueary had seen them; I don’t understand why he wouldn’t go much further than that. He can’t have feared for his safety; Sandusky was more vulnerable than McQueary in that instant. McQueary should have at least shouted at him to stop, then seen to the safety of the victim. I know it’s easy to second-guess, but in a situation like that, I sure hope instinct would kick in and that I’d try to help the victim.

  2. It’s a sad day anywhere, where people can look the other way and say, “I told my boss.” That’s a cop out.

    My immediate response would be to yank the son-of-a-bitch off the kid while I was calling the cops on my cell phone. PERIOD. That is what should have been done. How many children could have been saved from the nightmare of sexual abuse if someone had stood up and said NO.

    They should all be packing right now, but they will probably be placed on administrative leave (with pay) and allowed to resign. That is where Society comes in to play, their right to retire with dignity outweighs a child’s right to be protected.

    • Curley and Schultz have stepped down. Paterno has announced he will retire at the end of the season, but the board can still decide to get rid of him before then, and I sincerely hope it does. As much as I have loved and respected him all these years, I can’t imagine supporting him to coach the game against Nebraska on Saturday, let alone the games on the road the rest of the season. The team is 8-1… if they keep winning they’ll end up in a bowl game. No word on what is going on with McQueary; the grand jury’s report leaves him unnamed, which makes me think he’s been given legal protection of some kind.

      I debate the issue of retirement vs. resignation vs. firing. For six decades, Paterno has done an excellent job coaching and recruiting. But for nine, he’s ignored this issue; six of those were in a time when Sandusky was the heir apparent to the head coaching position. I’m sure the board pushed him to “decide to retire.” Nobody wants to fire Joe Paterno; he’s the one who made the school what it is (major school football programs bring in a huge percentage of the school’s revenue). But he and the others who never called police also contributed to making Sandusky a monster.

      • Jodi, I hear you, but they’re kids. Kids are stupid sometimes. We’ve all had our phase of being misguidedly passionate. These kids have bonded themselves emotionally with the school and with Paterno. I haven’t mentioned this, but the Paternos have donated millions of dollars (his salary is $1M/year) back to the school, to build facilities, improve conditions, fund the library, etc. They have given a lot to the school – in a lot of ways, they have MADE the school, and the kids know that. Between that and their emotional attachment to the legacy of Paterno and PSU, it’s very hard for them to wrap their heads around what’s happened. Some day, they’ll look back and realize they were wrong. For now, it’s a display that seems ugly to the rest of us, but we have to remember how young they are and how emotional this is for them. The PSU football program is extraordinarily beneficial to PSU funding. On top of everything else, these kids may be worried that without the success of the program under the Paterno legacy (which has been built over 61 years), their tuition will go up

  3. A very frustrating and traumatic read.

    I previously Directed a child care centre, and reporting of any ‘Suspected’ Child abuse is Mandatory – for every single person/persons who have reasonable grounds to suspect abuse is occuring. It is a criminal offence NOT to report it.

    Here, there are a range of strategies in place to minimise the occurence of abuse and to educate people about the Legal reporting obligations when it comes to child abuse and neglect;

    – Advertisements on the television, at community events involving children and young people and in community and school based newletters and newspapers.

    – Staff working with children HAVE to undertake studies in the identification of children and young people at risk of harm. – I remember spending no less that 4 weeks of full time study simply on recognising the indicators of child abuse and the clusters of indicators that represent the possibility of the occurence of child abuse. I update my knowledge by undertaking a course every year.

    – We also have Ochre Cards. Which are a legal requirement for any person, paid or unpaid being in the same environment as children. In order to obtain one of these cards, you need to complete a criminal history check. Even parents wishing to spend time with their child on an excursion, or attend an assembly must legally obtain one of these cards.

    Still abuse occurs. But the processes help to weed out some of the ‘bad apples’, and make it harder for abusers to carry out their behaviours.

    Something I note in the laws outlined in the Grand Jury Statement is the Mandatory reporting applying only to those in positions of management. To me, that is a weak point in the legislation.
    There needs to be clearly outlined legislation which indicates that ANY person with reasonable grounds to suspect child abuse MUST report it by Law. Furthermore, people need to know about their responsibilities and the consequences.

    Parents, grandparents, principles, teachers, police, coaches and any of number of people with levels of authority and power can and are also abusers of children.

    A very sad course of events, and one can only hope that those who neglected to properly report and help put a stop to this abuse have an awareness of the subsequent pain caused as a result, and learn from that.

    It is our responsibility as a community to protect our children.

    • As of late this evening, the Board of Trustees fired Joe Paterno and the president of the university. (Curley and Schultz were already gone from their posts, and McQueary, for some reason, has been protected.)

      Louella, thanks for your thoughtful comment. There are a lot of laws and regulations here for those who deal with children. In this particular case, the people who failed to report the abuse did not know or work with children; they were university staff whose youngest charges were already legal adults. Certainly, as I’ve described in my post, that does not relieve them of moral obligation. I agree with you about what you described as the weak point in the legislation – both from a legal and a common sense approach. I think there are some situations that insert doubt into the debate as to whether all persons should be required by law to report what they see; that sounds quite off, I know, but sometimes what a person thinks they see and what is real are very different, and lives can be ruined in accusations. But in the cases outlined in the report, for which there were witnesses, there is no doubt of what was happening.

      • Re the doubt – a person seeing and what is real.

        A mandatory reporter reports a reasonable suspicion based on some reasonable evidence or indicators to the appropriate child protection agencies.

        The legislation and study for mandatory reporters (in my location) states that it is not the role of the mandatory reporter to prove, accuse, investigate or even discuss the matter with the person supsected of the abuse. Confidentiality has to be maintained under all circumstances – except where reporting directly to the relevant authorities. (Ofcourse people outside of the childrens services industry are sometimes unaware of this.)

        It is the responsibility of the relevant child protection agency/police unit to investigate whether or not abuse has occured or is occuring. The reporter is required to make a statement and provide all records of suspected abuse indicators if they have them on record. This assists with the investigation process.

        Even if a person is unsure whether or not they have enough evidence/indicators to establish a reasonable suspicion they have the option to anonymously call the agency and have a discussion with a representative who will provide further advice.

        I myself have been involved in numerous investigations as part of the role I have held in various children’s services agencies. In my experience, staff investigating have been very professional and maintained all required levels of confidentiality.

        I generally have seen extremely distraught parents and or relatives unwittingly reveal the situation at hand by choosing to confront the individual accused publically. I do understand the reasoning behind such events. If it werent for my knowledge of the process I may very well do the same thing in the event I suspected my child had been abused.

        However, in my experience, it is events such as what I described above that ‘ruin peoples’ lives, – not that of a confidentially reported reasonable suspicion of abuse, using the appropriate channels.

        The most common reason why people don’t report is because they do not want to make a mistake, – that is, falsely accuse someone of abuse when abuse wasn’t actually occuring.

        I consider it in this manner – What if I am right? In the case of child abuse, the child should be the main focus, and we have a duty of care to act in their best interests. Any concerns about the adults are of lesser significance and should not be a priority.

        Re no doubt in this case – 100% agree. What a disgrace.

  4. Excellent analysis of the situation. I’ve been listening to the news this morning, feeling surprisingly torn. I agree with everything you wrote, and I agree with Penn State’s decision to terminate Paterno. The surprising thing is that I also feel a bit bad for Paterno, the same way I felt bad for Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men.” Some institutions – military and college athletics as prime examples – demand such a fierce loyalty that I think it can warp the minds of people who fully buy into them. We need people to understand that any time a crime occurs, the institution takes back seat to the law.

    Unfortunately, based on the number of people protesting Penn State’s decision, it seems a lot of people still don’t get it. They value a winning football program over the safety of children. I hope the dialogue surrounding this scandal challenges – and changes – their thinking. Otherwise, I fear that anyone who walks away from this thinking Paterno was wrongly dismissed may deny their own culpability in a similar situation. And that’s what needs to change: We ALL have a responsibility to look out for those who can’t look out for themselves.

    • I’m torn too, because I’ve been a fan my whole life. It’s not that I don’t understand or believe what’s in the grand jury report; it’s that I hate having to give up a group I’ve loved because of something so sickening that it’s hard to fathom. I commented to Jodi that we all know kids can have their misguided passions, and the Paternos have been so crucial to the way the college is funded that there’s a chance the kids’ tuition is going to go up as a result of this whole mess. But with maturity, they’ll realize PSU did what it had to do. And you put into words a concern I’ve had and didn’t articulate well: thinking these people don’t bear responsiblity may indicate that we don’t think we bear it, either.

  5. Louella: I appreciate your very knowledgeable perspective from the standpoint of Australian law. It sounds like it does work well for you. I don’t know as much about the way the laws work here. I agree with you about the ultimate question: “What if I’m right?”

  6. The new minted benign and avuncular Joe Paterno on his front lawn, adoring wife in tow, says, “Pray a little for those victims.”

    Not buying it Joe. You knew all about Sandusky, and you just didn’t care.

    Why? Because football coaches live in a tough world. If the head coach of a college team is fired one of his fellow coaches will give him a job. In the trenches of sports, “There but for the grace of God go I”, is a constant threat. Sandusky was a brother-in-arms, so Joe looked after him. Plus, Joe did not care how many little boys he raped, as long as he kept helping him win games. Look at Penn State’s record after 1999, the year Sandusky retired. So bad that in 2004 the University wanted Joe gone. Without Sandusky he was in trouble. A theme is emerging here. It clearly spells out that both Joe and the University knew, the latest (not the earliest) they knew it and their willful blindness. They thought by forcing Sandusky out in 1999 they had got away with it, after all Sandusky had been getting away with it for years.

    Two time College Football National Champion coaches are neither benign nor avuncular. I am quite happy with that. But that “Pray..” comment just betrays the uncaring self-centered despot that has been on display for the last 60 plus years. Just look at the photos and videos of him when he was on the sidelines or at coaching practice. A snarling autocrat who ruled unchallenged. A man whose life was about two things: Joe Paterno and football. Sex scandals and pederasty merely distract from those two central themes. His business was football. The University needs money and his program supplied them with hundreds of millions of dollars. Like many powerful men in politics or industry he dismissed or delegated such trivial matters and got on with the business at hand.

    Until it comes back to bite you, and this one has fangs, Sabre Tooth Tiger fangs

    Like all despots, Joe did not know when to go. What other coach could, when visited twice by University officials, tell them that he wasn’t retiring and that’s that? Now he has gone the way of Saddam Hussein, Moammar Gahdafi, Idi Amin and their peers. Bought down by events that they themselves set in motion. Blind to their own failings.

    Mike McQueary is imperfect; however, whatever his failings, he would have been dominated by both Paterno and at an earlier point, Sandusky. This makes McQueary a real paradox. Simultaneously a tough sports leader and a moral coward. Reflect for moment, his ex-coach was anally raping a 10 year old, better not to risk his wrath, he could have screwed up my relationship with Paterno. Better idea was run home to Dad, and leave the child to his fate. Never, mind that McQueary was 28 years old. Old enough to be a father. Older than many young officers who lead men in battle and who, under extreme duress, make way better decisions regarding the lives of their men and themselves. They don’t have the luxury of time. to reflect before acting. The only thing in danger was McQueary’s career, way more important than a 10 yer old boy’s fate.

    I hope that the money designated to be spent on the Joe Paterno Memorial Library is eaten up by law suits and huge settlements paid to the victims of this malignant neglect.

    I might even pray a little for that.

    • Your passion is so greatly respected and appreciated. I don’t entirely agree but I can’t blame you for the completeness of your feelings, and as I noted, I was a fan, so that colors my perception some. Thank you, by the way, for the correction on when Sandusky retired; I will fix that in my post. And I agree with you about Mike McQueary being a paradox, and about the irony of the immaturity of his failings at his not-so-young age. It is an impossibly difficult situation to excuse, on any level, even though our humanity may reach out to some more than others. Thank you for your thoughts.

  7. All I can say is YES!! Thank you for writing this. I been struggling with the ongoing controversy that so rarely mentions Sandusky’s victims and what this means for society. You’ve articulated it beautifully and your outrage is mine.

    • Thanks, Bud. There is so much to say on this; it’s hard to put into words and then to pare down, isn’t it? Takes a while just to get to something cohesive from the general rush of emotion that comes first. I am glad Mike McQueary is not on the sidelines today. Though I feel for what must be his regret, I don’t think he has a future in football now. Shame.

  8. It is good to keep reading about this situation. To be reminded that even though right now all that is going on is pretrial motions, this grievious crime and cover up happened. A little boy was being raped by Sandusky. I’m not a big person but I can say without question, I would have grabbed that little boy, kicked Sandusky in the balls and called 911. Throughout all of this I heard people saying, “well you don’t know what you REALLY would have done in that situation.” Yes, yes I do.

    “I have sinned through my own fault
    in my thoughts and in my words
    In what I have done

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