Manifest Arrogance Defines Penn State Tragedy
"I didn't think it was a crime at the time." - Tim Curley, former Penn State athletic director, to prosecutors as to why he didn't report the Jerry Sandusky incident to the police.
"I didn't want to interfere with their weekend." - Joe Paterno, former Penn State football coach, to prosecutors when asked why he waited a couple of days to notify his superiors of the alleged Sandusky attack.
What would I have done?
This is the basic question I repeatedly ask as I continue to delve into the details surrounding the child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State. As more testimony comes to light from the main actors in the revolting affair, I've tried to separate moral indignation and general disgust from a detached, reasoned way of examining the case.
I'd like to think, and do indeed believe, that after witnessing such a violent act against an innocent, I'd intervene on some level, be it in the moment with a physical confrontation or via intensive investigation shortly afterward. Who wouldn't want to think this about themselves?
Apparently, not those in charge at Penn State.
It is understandable, if not entirely forgivable, how assistant coach Mike McQueary was so, well, freaked out that he was frozen at first and didn't confront Jerry Sandusky when allegedly seeing the former defensive coordinator with a young boy in the showers at Penn State. Seeing someone you have trusted engaged in such a savage deed is a shock to the system.
But no matter how objective I attempt to be, I can't escape the fact that none of the higher-ups involved - Paterno, Curley, university President Graham Spanier and Vice President Gary Schultz - bothered to locate and reach out to the boy who was allegedly the victim of a cowardly nighttime sexual assault in the gym showers on the sacred athletic grounds of the Penn State campus.
That this alone - the knowledge that a child may have been abused while on campus - wasn't enough to cause a crisis of conscience in these men is nothing short of reprehensible. This is what I can't get out of my thoughts: Some of the most widely respected men in the cloistered hamlet of State College let an alleged predator, rapist and sociopath have the run of the place.
It's obvious now, after McQueary's testimony Friday, that he intends to let the world know that his conscience is slowly cleansing itself by staying firm with his assertions that what he described in graphic detail to Paterno, Curley and Schultz was the truth and is therefore damning evidence. Because if Curley and Schultz were told in no uncertain terms that Sandusky was naked in the shower with a naked boy and was touching the child, then their failure to notify the police is criminal. Quite simply, McQueary is not willing to be the fall guy.
Plenty of legal experts will debate whether the case is strong enough to convict Curley and Schultz on charges relating to a failure to act. It appears the defense attorneys will pin their hopes on the fact that the prosecution doesn't have a witness to corroborate McQueary's testimony in the 2002 incident.
Away from the strictly legalistic aspects of this depressing story is a focus on the more instinctual - if elusive - notions of moral imperatives that are supposed to bind us, especially at a university. This is why, in many ways, Curley and Schultz's proceedings will be more interesting and have a greater effect than the Sandusky trial, as it will focus on the burden of duty by those entrusted with power.
One doesn't have to be a parent to feel outrage at violence against a child. Even prisoners regard child molesters with a righteous disdain. But having children of one's own does make it that much more tangible.
Yet all those involved at Penn State are parents. It simply baffles me that neither Paterno nor Spanier nor Curley nor Schultz was overcome with images of their own children being attacked enough to rush to find out the truth.
The underappreciated angle to this story is the role of Spanier. While nearly everyone will concede that Paterno was the most powerful man in north-central Pennsylvania over the last 40 years, Spanier's lack of action and condescension may turn out to be the most revealing source of dysfunction in this mess.
First there was Spanier's too-quick, nearly irrational defense of Curley and Schultz when he said he had "complete confidence" in the two and both "operate at the highest levels of honesty." It's all good and fine to defend your co-workers. But to do so without knowing all the facts, without having done due diligence to locate the alleged victims or even utter a sentence of empathy is an altogether different thing.
Spanier is supposed to be an educator, first and foremost. His academic field of study was human sexuality, family therapy and marriage counseling. He needs to be asked: What's the point of being such a purported expert in those areas if, at the most crucial time in your career, you fail to tap this supposed wisdom and use it to seek the truth?
It's a brutal irony, almost as comically ironic as the fact that Penn State dedicated a child care center in Schultz's name.
What's the point of accumulating an impressive list of professional accolades if it's not implemented in that much larger world outside the incestuous environment at State College? It cuts to the core of what's rotten in our universities, aside from sports.
Unlike Curley and Schulz, Spanier is not on trial - at least not yet. But, like the other two, he'll have to live with his conscience and look his children in the eyes for the rest of his life and tell them he failed by deciding an alleged sexual attack on a child under his watch just wasn't that big a deal.