A teachable moment at Penn State?

What is most shocking to me about the current scandal at Penn State (sports and sexual abuse of boys, in case you hadn’t heard) is the response of the students to the announcement last night that longtime head football coach Joe Paterno was fired.

Do the hundreds of students who poured into the streets to smash car windows and pull down lamp posts believe that it was OK that the coach turned a blind eye to the repeated rape of boys, some as young as 10 years old, in the university’s football locker room showers?

Do they want to be part of an institution that condones this kind of behavior?

If anything, the students should have taken to the streets to demand Paterno’s resignation, along with that of his boss, Penn State president Graham Spanier.

But no.  To these rampaging students, what happened in those showers with the pedophile assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was less important than hanging on to their beloved head coach.

This is reminiscent of so many other, similar scandals, in which men’s loyalty to social groups, whether it’s the military, a fraternity, a gang, or a football team, is so strong that it completely skews their independent moral compasses.

If you presented a group of unaffiliated students with a scenario like what we’ve just witnessed at Penn State, and asked them whether assistant coach Mike McQueary was right to blow the whistle on Sandusky after witnessing him rape a 10-year-old boy in the football locker room shower late one night in 2002, I think most of those students would say McQueary was in the right.  They would also most likely come to the conclusion that it was the duty of McQueary and Sandusky’s boss, Joe Paterno, to report the crime.

But obviously things don’t look so clearcut when various conflicting loyalties come into play.  When McQueary realized that Paterno and other school officials were not going to report Sandusky, should he have pursued the matter independently–even when it might very well have cost him his job?

Of course, the answer is yes.  How could McQueary and Paterno sleep at night knowing that Sandusky was using university facilities to lure in boys?  Boys, who, by the way, he met through a charity he belonged to, the Second Mile Foundation, which purports to help disadvantaged children in Pennsylvania.

It saddens but does not surprise me that the students at Penn State who protested the firing of Coach Paterno are willing to put their team loyalty ahead of the pursuit of justice and integrity in this case.

It’s very similar to the loyalty of the Catholic priesthood, which chose to protect its own rather than stand up for the rights of the young children, mostly boys, who were being molested by pedophile priests for years and years.

Or like the loyalty of fraternity boys who would never rat out a “brother” who raped a girl during a party.

I’m sorry, guys, but this is not brotherhood.  It’s bullying: one person taking advantage of someone with less social power or physical strength, and a whole bunch of bystanders letting it happen.

This is what the Penn State students are proud of?  They should be ashamed.

At least Joe Paterno, at 84, does seem to be showing some signs of moral rectitude.  “This is a tragedy,” he said yesterday. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

Yeah, Joe.  You may have had more football game victories than any other college coach, but you sure could have done more.

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1 Comment

  1. Sadly, outrageously, I have come to expect that in this thoroughly patriarchal society people will always find it easier to support the powerful than their victims. Paterno. Herman Cane. Clarence Thomas. The legions of named and unnamed priests, ministers, fathers, etc. Those who wage the wars we “have to finish.” And on and on. At least Paterno told his supportive throng to “pray for the abused boys.” A tiny speck of reason in an otherwise bleak field.

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