Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Penn State and responsibility

As you know from reading this blog -- and the title of the blog itself -- I am a dad. A new(ish) Dad. And I admittedly am learning on the job every day. Some of that learning is fun (Where are my daughter's ticklish spots? What's her favorite bedtime story?); some of it not so much (What are the signs of an ear infection? How do I sleep-train my daughter?)...

I can tell you one thing I didn't need to learn, tho. I didn't need to learn that a child is vulnerable, maybe the most vulnerable thing in the world. Vulnerable to sickness. Vulnerable to a new world that might not be fully be baby-proofed. And vulnerable to those who prey on them.

Those like Jerry Sandusky, the alleged pedophile at Penn State.

I tried to hold off writing this; I really did. I do believe in innocence until proven guilty. I believe in due process. But when a crime like this -- one so heinous that it shakes you truly to your core -- is alleged, I go blind. Blind to reason and justice and, frankly, logic.

Sandusky -- allegedly -- took advantage of young boys who came to his Second Mile charity foundation seeking guidance. Many of them came from single family or broken homes, looking for something or someone that would help them escape what I'm sure were awful situations. What they got was far, far worse.

They asked for help. Instead, they got a predator who was -- allegedly -- only too happy to take advantage of that need, that want, to feed his own sickness. To me -- again, if guilty -- Sandusky should go to prison for the rest of his life, where he will be subject to a Hell that monsters like him deserve. It's well known that child molesters and pedophiles are the most hated, most reviled, most ostracized members of any prison community. They are the ones that murderers, thieves and rapists look down. Men with no moral compass know a true monster when they see one.

But this is not just about one man who took advantage of children who were vulnerable. This is also about responsibility, more specifically moral responsibility.

There's no question that, when confronted by the reports that a predator was in their midst, using his position and influence in the football program and access to the facilities, the leaders in the Penn State community chose to bury the truth rather than confront it. The firings and resignations of the last two weeks -- academic, institutional and athletic leaders all have been dismissed, chose to leave or have been placed on leave -- are proof of that.

Many of these individuals claim that they "followed the rules" in reporting what they saw or what they knew to their higher-ups. That may be true, and -- legally at least -- was a responsible move.

But what about going further? What about realizing that a child often has neither the mental capacity to understand nor courage to report to an adult that another adult has taken advantage of them? Some children barely have the courage or smarts to tell a teacher when a classmate steals their pudding at lunch or hits them at recess, let alone that they have been sexually assaulted by someone they know and probably trust.

Now remember that, to many of these children, that adult was a "friend" who gave them gifts, took them on trips, and told their parents that he was "helping them to a better future."

So, confronted with an unspeakable crime, the coaches, administrators and leaders at Penn State chose to keep it in house. Take care of it their way. Not go to the police, protect the children, and stop a monster.

Those leaders, those pillars of the Penn State community, had a moral obligation -- as self-described teachers and leaders of men -- to report this and try to put a stop to it. And they failed.

And those children paid the price.

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