I was on vacation last week, during which I spent a fair bit of time discussing and accidentally arguing with my friends over the sex abuse scandal engulfing Penn State, which as you probably know by now entail allegations that former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually abused children, that he had been witnessed doing it by assistant coach Mike McQueary, and that when the matter was brought to head coach Joe Paterno’s attention, it was handled in such an unsatisfactory manner as to prompt come critics to charge PSU of covering the whole thing up. (Gee, Bill. Nice to see you, too. Glad you started off with some light reading for us…)
Mainly, my discussions were confined to the dismissal of Paterno and whether it was merited (it was), and whether he or assistant coach Mike McQueary had a moral obligation to tell the police what they knew about Sandusky’s actions before referring the matter to Penn State administrators (they did).
At some point we discussed the degree to which the PSU football industry and culture factored into things (ranging from “not at all” to “entirely,” depending on who you talk to), but mainly we concerned ourselves with the legal responsibility to bring criminal behavior to the authorities rather to your employer. Penn State, and Paterno, fulfilled their legal obligations as defined by the state of Pennsylvania, dealing with this situation as they did. But in the minds of many (including, apparently the Penn State Board of Trustees), that legal obligation was a far cry from the moral obligation that McQueary and Paterno and the other administrators involved in this case failed to live up to.
My feelings on this issue run very strongly, fueled for the most part by what I read from the Sandusky grand jury presentment. You can read it for yourself, but I warn you it is not for the faint of heart. There are graphic details in this that will not leave your mind easily. I spent the better part of a day trying to process it.
I know for certain that were I McQueary, and had I witnessed what I had just witnessed, I would not have needed my father to tell me how to proceed. Facing a storm of negative commentary, Mcqueary insists he did not just leave that little boy to Sandusky’s mercy; he somehow intervened to stop the encounter. Bully for him, I suppose. All I know is that as the father of a boy about the age of the vistim in that particular case, I’d probably have left that shower with a Murder 2 rap on my hands. It’s easy to talk tough when you’re in the comfort of your study, typing away, though. It’s another thing to do right when the pressure is on and you don’t have a whole lot of time to deliberate.
In the case of PSU, there was at least one young boy who needed defending, and at a time when it mattered most, a whole chain of adults let that boy down. Why they let him down is open to much speculation. All I can say is that money is a great enemy of risk management, as is culture. And when you have an institution such as a major college football program that is both a massive revenue generator as well as the subject of a widespread exaltation by the school and all who live around it…well, you get an environment in which some really bad decisions can be made during times of crisis. This appears to be one such case of that.