On June 22 of this year, Pennsylvania State University’s assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, was convicted on 45 of 48 counts of sexually abusing young boys both in university athletic facilities and in the basement of his home covering a period of 15 years.
The trial lasted eight days and the jury heard from eight of ten victims telling with emotion of Sandusky’s sexual abuse during their childhood. Sandusky now faces a maximum sentence of 442 years.
Twenty days later, on July 12, shock waves crossed the continent when a special committee authorized by the university’s Board of Trustees reported. Their assignment had been to determine fully the university’s degree of involvement.
The law firm headed by Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI, had undertaken the task. Their 267-page report was labeled by one person, a story of “horror in slow motion.”
It revealed that the sexual abuse of young boys by Sandusky in university facilities was far from secretive. Head Football Coach Paterno, recently deceased, knew about it. The president of the University had heard the reports. Three top officials near the presidential level also had been notified.
What the report shows is that the horrendous wrong was breezily overlooked or covered up. Earlier, key officials had lied to a grand jury to protect the reputation of the football program of the university.
Even janitors had witnessed Sandusky’s disgusting sexual abuse of boys but testified that they were afraid to speak up fearing they might lose their jobs.
The extent of the silence and cover-up was truly amazing. Sandusky had actually been given a protected venue in which to carry out his sexually perverse activities.
The president of the university has been replaced. One news analyst predicts that others will possibly go to jail before the ramifications of this scandal are fully dealt with.
Why did this extensive cover-up remain intact across 15 years? Many say that the football culture in the university is so entrenched in the whole university that any price will be paid to protect it from scandal. It can also be argued that just a simple lack of administrative rigor was a major factor. Yet others allege it was the effect of what is sometimes called “the ol’ boys club” when officials protect one another at the expense of the integrity of the institution.
I suggest two other possibilities to ponder.
Could the serious suppression of complaints be traced to the disregard officials showed for university regulations? Did they opt to govern by the ad hoc decisions of individuals rather than by the rules?
In reading from the Freeh report it becomes evident that in order to conceal the information about the serious offences, several officials improvised a response that suited their own commitments instead of the governing laws of the state. They appeared to put their private judgment above the law.
The other possible explanation as to why the offenses went unchecked might be that for them the worth of children was diminished. In the whole cast of players in the Penn State scandal extending across 15 years, not one voice spoke up in indignation or to give protection to the defenseless children who were being brutalized.
This monstrous wrong at Penn State should not be compared to a tornado that touches down, devastating a single community in one spot in Pennsylvania. It is more like a hurricane that has come ashore to reek wide havoc.
Let us pray that the shock of it will alert leaders everywhere who are responsible for the integrity of institutions — the home, the church, the school, the state and all civic governments — to the peril of a moral softness that can bring about such damaging consequences.