Saturday, November 12, 2011

One Additional Lesson From The PSU Child Abuse Case. May Trigger.


If you follow American news you will know about this case. It involves allegations of sexual abuse (including rape) of young boys by the once-heir-apparent of Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky.

Paterno is a myth in himself among those who follow college football; a man who is admired and respected for the way he has treated the players, a god-like figure whose importance and power at Pennsylvania State University is hard to overestimate. At the age of 84, he is simply called JoePa. He has won more football games than any other coach in history.

And he was fired, together with the university president, Graham Spanier, for the minimal action they took in a 2002 case:
An alleged incident in March 2002 is particularly shocking.

Despite his retirement, and despite the 1998 probe, Sandusky still had privileges on campus, including access to gyms and locker rooms.

Late in the evening of March 1, 2002, a Friday before the university's spring holiday, a graduate assistant on the football team entered the main football building's locker room to the unexpected sound of showers running, according to the grand jury report. It said he heard "rhythmic, slapping sounds" which he believed to be the sound of sexual activity.

The graduate assistant found Sandusky sodomizing a boy of about 10 years old, the grand jury report said. Rather than calling the authorities, though, he called his father.

The next morning, at his father's urging, he called Paterno and told him a version of what he had seen - exactly how much detail he gave is not clear from the grand jury report. Paterno - whose stature among sports fans is hard to overstate - did not call police either.


The graduate assistant was later identified as Mike McQueary, a red-headed former Penn State quarterback who has since risen to the ranks of assistant coach.

McQueary, who was described in the grand jury report as a "credible" witness, has not commented since the charges were brought. Requests for comment via his father and brother were declined. On Friday, he was put on administrative leave by the university.

A full day after Paterno spoke to McQueary, the head coach told his boss, athletic director Tim Curley, that a graduate assistant had seen Jerry Sandusky "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy" in the team showers, the grand jury report said.

Nearly 10 days later, McQueary met Curley and Gary Schultz, the Penn State vice president, and told them he had witnessed "what he believed to be Sandusky have anal sex with a boy" in the showers, the grand jury report said.

Curley denied to the grand jury that McQueary had reported anal sex and described the conduct as "horsing around."

The grand jury report said McQueary was never interviewed by police, even though he had reported what he saw to Schultz, who ran the campus police department. Schultz later told the grand jury he was surprised to learn there was a long report in the police files from the 1998 investigation.

The reporting of the 2002 incident went all the way to Graham Spanier, the university's president since 1995 and a sociologist and family therapist by training.

Spanier testified to the grand jury that he was told of an incident in 2002 - though he said the sexual aspects were not part of the report - and that he was also told there were no plans to inform law enforcement or child welfare officials.

The Sandusky Grand Jury Report is available on the net. It makes for gruesome reading.

Much has been written about all this, including about Sandusky's use of the Second Mile organization to groom vulnerable children, and my addition to it is not intended to be an important one. But it is something that hasn't been addressed enough.

Suppose that you walk into a locker-room and observe a child rape taking place. The rapist is someone powerful. Your life has just turned upside down. It demands that you take a stand, that you make an ethical choice, and it demands that while kicking down the pyramid of cards you have laboriously built as your career plans. It does not care about all those consequences. You must take a stand right there and then, and whatever you choose will make your life more difficult. That is how it is. The only choice you have is about what you are going to do. The event happened, you were picked as the witness, and it is not going to be pretty.

Or consider this fictitious example: You are in a car, driving to get to your own wedding, guests are waiting and you are late. And then you witness a bad accident, are, in fact the first one to arrive after it happened. Life has given you another horrible choice. Almost all of us would stop to help, almost all of us would find the wedding delayed, perhaps cancelled, our clothes ruined.

That is what all this means. When bad things happen, other things get pushed aside, ignored, even broken. And you still must make a choice.

All this links to the janitor who witnessed another incident and to his superior who chose not to report it, either, though the janitor was informed about how to make such a report. These workers knew that they might lose their jobs because they were relatively powerless, that nothing else might happen in any case.

For them the consequences of reporting were the probable losses of jobs. For the graduate assistant witnessing the locker-room incident the possible consequence might have been the loss of mentors, the loss of a promising career. Or perhaps sleepless nights. Or not.

And for the Penn State football fans? We have seen some of their reactions to the unavoidable consequences of the Sandusky case becoming public. Those reactions, too, are linked. The god HAS fallen off his pedestal, there ARE more important things than winning football games. Their lives are asking them to grow up and to accept this.

I come across as a moralizing goddess here, and that is not my point. The organization failed, the organization was too hierarchical, too painfully patriarchal. Like an ingrown toe-nail. The powerful get more protection than the powerless, and other powerless cannot change that very easily.

But there is still that choice, an unpleasant one. And it is nothing to do with being a hero or not.