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Firm's Attempt to Disown Sandusky Is Specious

The buck doesn't seem to be stopping anywhere in north-central Pennsylvania.

First it was former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. Then athletic director Tim Curley and university President Graham Spanier.

One by one, responsibility - both legal and moral - has been vacated by those in position to have done something about the alleged crimes by Jerry Sandusky.

And now the New Jersey-based Federal Insurance Co. - a subsidiary of Chubb Group, the insurers of Sandusky's Second Mile charity - has joined the list of those seeking to distance themselves from the legal entanglements.

No one at Federal likely had any hint of what was going on with the children at Second Mile who had contact with Sandusky, as opposed to the aforementioned former employees of Penn State. It's not as if anyone from Federal is legally culpable or morally responsible in any way as it relates to the alleged cases of child sexual molestation.

But what is similar and continues the drip-drip-drip trend of this entire fiasco is that Federal doesn't want to be held accountable for its connection with Second Mile. The company filed suit last week in Williamsport, Pa., stating that it should not have to pay attorney's fees for Sandusky's representation because of the nature of the charges.

In the suit, Federal says any illegal acts Sandusky may have committed were not done "in his capacity" as an official of Second Mile, the organization founded by Sandusky in 1977 to assist with troubled youths in Pennsylvania.

And while Federal's policy with Second Mile does cover attorney's fees, Federal claims that "extending insurance coverage to Sandusky is unlawful because providing insurance coverage for claims arising from sexual assault, molestation and/or abuse of minors is repugnant to Pennsylvania public policy."

One can have a bit of empathy for Federal. After all, the company thought it had aligned with one of the best nonprofits in the state, an organization that had received praise from all corners through the decades.

But at the same time, it is incorrect and downright specious for Federal to argue that Sandusky's actions were not committed in his capacity as an official at Second Mile. Yes, none of the alleged crimes actually took place at Second Mile, but it was because of his stewardship of the program that Sanduksy had access to the youngsters against whom he is alleged to have committed these heinous crimes. And Sandusky met all eight alleged victims mentioned in the grand jury report at Second Mile.

Indeed, some think Sandusky was using Second Mile as his own grotesque breeding ground, to form allegiances with children and gain their trust. And Sandusky, though let go by Penn State a decade ago, didn't resign from Second Mile until the fall of 2010.

Perhaps those at Federal should reacquaint themselves with the grand jury indictment, which specifically refers to Second Mile as the key entity.

For Federal to try to avoid association with an alleged child molester is entirely understandable. It's not as if the company had known all along about the Sandusky rumors and was just now starting to flee the scene.

But if Sandusky's "secret" was whispered about in the cloistered community, as some say it was, could Federal have possibly known about it?

More to the point, this case shows that there must be a heightened degree of due diligence with insurance companies. As soon as rumblings of problems with Sandusky emerged at Penn State, especially when he was let go so quickly by the school, everyone involved with Second Mile should have been paying greater attention.

There's always that reliable trope in movies and literature in which there are two bad guys. One is the purer manifestation of sinister, while the other goes along for the ride but doesn't follow through with committing the barbaric acts and often displays some degree of remorse. Some say both characters are equally responsible for whatever crimes take place because each had the intent.

I would never argue that to be the case, as the one who actually physically does the evil deed is the more guilty. So Paterno, Curley and Spanier should never be lumped in the same category as Sandusky. Not even close.

But they all failed to act - and have suffered terrible consequences themselves.

So it's a bit suspect that Federal thinks it deserves a break because of the circumstances. If Federal loses its case, it probably will have to pay out nearly $100,000, as most have estimated. But for an insurance giant like Chubb, with assets in the billions, it's a minor sum.

And, as the saying goes, you can tell a lot about people by the company they keep. Sometimes, through no fault of our own, we never truly know the truth behind those we associate with as friends, business partners or colleagues. But we have to take responsibility on some level for actions we are even tangentially involved with, however painful.

Award-winning columnist Tim Joyce provides regular commentary for RealClearSports on Sundays and Tuesdays. Email: joyce.timothy@gmail.com

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