Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Good people did nothing

The tsunami of scandal around accusations of child sexual abuse by former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky has swamped the school's longtime president, its athletic department and its iconic head football coach, Joe Paterno.

By all accounts, Penn State runs a clean, honest football program, graduating more players than all but Stanford University. But something that would not be touted in press releases happened.

Former coach Jerry Sandusky allegedly used the cover of the university's football program to molest children. He says he is innocent, but a grand jury indictment is damning.

Mike McQueary, a 28-year-old graduate assistant, reportedly saw Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in a university locker room shower. McQueary didn't scream or call the cops. It's unclear if he stopped the act. He told his father, and the next day he told Paterno, who told the school's athletic director. At that point, apparently good men did nothing.

McQueary did nothing more. If he had pursued the situation, it could have meant the end of his connection to Penn State football and maybe a coaching career.

McQueary faced his moment of truth, did the minimum and remains on the coaching staff. But in the end, he failed. He didn't protect the victims.

Paterno failed, too. Imagine if he had heard that money was changing hands to sign kids or that gamblers were hanging around his program. He would have kept at it until the corruption was rooted out.

Paterno also did the minimum in telling the athletic director about McQueary's accusations. It is pretty hard to imagine that it did not occur to Penn State administrators that the football program and the university itself would be affected if such an allegation got out.

Failure to follow up, to pursue the truth and to protect young victims despite the nearly certain damage that the football program and the programs it helps support would suffer speaks to how hard it is for good men to do what must be done in the face of evil acts.

The allegations about Sandusky's criminal and savage behavior should have been treated seriously. They weren't. Once McQueary, Paterno and Penn State administrators chose to do the minimum, they chose not to protect future victims, and thus did nothing.

The only pure evil in this story is that exhibited by the alleged pedophile himself. Sadly, all the others have become personifications of Edmund Burke's 18th-century caution: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

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