Thursday, November 10, 2011

Firing Paterno Was the Right Thing to Do

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Joe Paterno, the 84-year-old head football coach at Penn State, was fired today for "barely" reporting a case of child sexual abuse that was committed by one of his former assistants.  The Penn State Board of Trustees also fired the university president, Graham Spanier.  Paterno is in his forty-sixth year as head coach, and Spanier has been president of the university since 1995.

The story of the child sexual abuse of young at-risk boys (easy targets) by assistant Penn State football coach, Jerry Sandusky, has been in the news all week.  It began with tales of eight victims, but a ninth came forward today.   Who knows how many more may ultimately surface as the Sandusky villainy continues to come to light?

Sandusky founded a charity for at-risk youth called The Second Mile.  His primary involvement seems to have been to take pre-pubescent boys under his special care so that he could mentor them.  In 1999 a graduate assistant found Sandusky (then in his late 50's) in the Penn State showers with a 10-year-old boy.  When Paterno was told of the incident, he reported it to his boss, athletic director Timothy Curley, and then took no further action - even after it became evident that no one up the food chain was going to act on the information.  Jerry Sandusky remained free for another dozen years, and the young at-risk boys in Pennsylvania remained truly at-risk.

This week Sandusky was arrested and promptly posted bail.   The athletic director, Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz, the university's senior vice-president for finance, were also arrested and charged with perjury and failure to report.  They have also bonded out.

And Penn State appears to be in a state of turmoil.  Many students are protesting Paterno's firing, while others are outraged that it took so long to finally begin the process of exposing these horrendous crimes.  A "blue out" is planned for this Saturday's game against Nebraska so that fans can show support of the Blue Ribbon Campaign against child abuse.

I have worked with the victims and perpetrators of child abuse for a couple of decades, and here is what I know:  people who sexually abuse children don't stop, and it is a sickness for which there is no cure.  They gravitate toward jobs where there are potential victims:  coaches, scout leaders, teachers, youth ministers, and, of course, priests.  Most people in those jobs are good people who would never harm a child, but some turn a blind-eye to co-workers who behave in a suspicious manner around children.  They don't want to risk ruining the career of a co-worker, they don't want to get involved, or they don't trust the word of a child, and by doing so, re-victimize the child.

I listened to a sports call-in show on the radio this afternoon, and most of the callers chewed up this situation and spit it out correctly.  Almost to a person they said that the focus now has to be on identifying the victims and doing as much as is humanly possible to treat those victims.

Yes, it's sad that a coach as "legendary" as Joe Paterno has to lose his job over his lackadaisical approach to reporting a crime, but to do less would be to dishonor and victimize the little boys (now many are young men) even more.  Awful crimes were committed, awful mistakes were made, and now awful penalties must be imposed.  The Board of Trustees at Penn State has taken a hard stand on this matter - and it was exactly the right stand to take.

I will be wearing blue on Saturday.

1 comment:

Xobekim said...

Papa Joe is of the same generation as most of the Roman Catholic bishops who also failed to act under similar circumstances.

A seismic shift has taken place, the law now imposes clear duties on certain persons to report incidents, even suspicions, of child sexual abuse. Those laws were not in place when Papa Joe and the bishops matriculated their ways up the ladders reaching their offices.

That which seems inexcusable used to be shoved under the carpet. Unfortunately for many children, past and present, the remnants of the culture of silence remain.

In Kansas City, Mo. the Jackson County Prosecutor has filed misdemeanor charges against both the diocese and the bishop for failing to promptly and properly report an offending priest.

In the not too distant past such charges were unthinkable. In the not too distant future they will be commonplace if those in authority don't wake up and smell the coffee.