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.

Nothing.

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.