The Penn State child abuse cover up just got worse this morning with the not-so-unexpected revelation that Joe Paterno — and his beloved football program — were more important to the university than the welfare of innocent children:

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims,” said Louis J. Freeh, the former federal judge and director of the F.B.I. who oversaw the investigation. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”

Freeh’s investigation — which took seven months and involved more than 400 interviews and the review of more than 3.5 million documents — accuses Paterno, the university’s former president and others of deliberately hiding facts about Sandusky’s sexually predatory behavior over the years.

As graduate of a similar B1G Football School — Graham Spanier used to run my university before he took over at PSU — I am familiar with the mentality of “protecting the team” at all costs because the entire persona of the school is wrongly wrapped up in the Rah-Rah of celebrating wins and mourning losses.  Football becomes both honor and reward and everything else is secondary to the success of the school on the gridiron.

The danger of putting football above the integrity of the university is that the school then becomes a slave to perception and advertising and doing the right thing tends to get unequally weighed against the benefit-to-loss ratio of how outside elements will affect the aura of the sport team.

Developing the moral core of the university is always secondary in a Football School.

When a university’s main purpose is paying football coaches more than their top faculty, then all hope in the cause of higher education is defeated because doing the right thing in educating minds and forming proper personalities is neglected and innocents who may threaten the status quo of the protected power become sacrificial to maintaining the status quo.  If covering up a single accusation of a raped child threatens to bring down an entire institution, then a 14-year habit of hiding the abuse of many children should bury a university forever if we believe a founding principle of any school is to form and example the aspiring moral core of all participants.

Penn State has a terrible problem.  Its history has been indelibly tainted by bad men acting with grave malice — and one wonders if the future will ever be able to brightly rise again because there will always be an embedded suspicion that there’s something wrong going on beneath the wins the promotional bluster.

Sure, Penn State is raking in donations right now — much of that blood money will eventually, and rightly, be funneled into paying off the children that were abused — but all that fear money is just deeper proof of the desperation of the alumni who are terrified they will be tainted by the child abuse scandal that threatens to crumble their entire institution.  Now that the truth is out about what really happened, no amount of money will begin to bury the nefarious intentions of the university.  I’m sure the big money will continue to flow for a time, because to not give in a time of desperation is to confess the child abuses can never be buried deep enough in cash to nullify the everlasting moral repercussions on a Penn State diploma.

Joe Paterno — and all the others who chronically, and intentionally, and immorally, and institutionally, protected Sandusky’s ability to continue to abuse children — all serve as a deadly lesson that football must never be the divining force behind any institution of higher learning because, in the end, there can only be loss in the wages of death.

5 Comments

  1. I would generalize this to say that any organization that puts its own aggrandizement above its stated mission – whether it is a university placing athletics above education, a corporation placing profits above safety (Deepwater Horizon), an agency placing deadlines above safety, again (Challenger), or an established religion placing protection of its elite above protection of “the least among us” – tragedy is inevitable.

    This is because abusers are attracted to environments that give them power and shield them from accountability.

    The abuse of children that happened at Penn State and within the Catholic church is particularly heinous, but there are far too many other organizations in which abuse – in various forms, but always of the relatively powerless by the relatively powerful – is rampant.

    I think (I hope and pray) that in the coming weeks, months, and years, we (at least in the US) will become both more aware of this, and less willing to accept it as “just the way things are”, a necessary cost of doing business.

    You might want to read the Ursula LeGuin short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”. It has a new, even sadder poignancy in light of Penn State.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, the only real way we have to foment change is through monetary punishment of the protectors. Prison isn’t any deterrent. The hundreds of millions the Church will have to pay its child victims, and the tens of millions Penn State will have to pay its child victims — start a small process of healing that, unfortunately, often leads to concealment — but at least there is some sort of stinging human reparation that can begin to happen with the right behavior corrections after the abused child has been “made whole” by an insufficient system.

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