Monday, November 7, 2011

Total Institutional Failure

By now, everyone has heard about the disgusting child sexual abuse allegations involving former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The allegations are, according to Pennsylvania authorities, that Sandusky engaged in rampant and disgusting child sexual abuse on Penn State facilities with 8 boys from 1994 until 2009. That becomes even more shocking when you realize he retired in 1999. That means that for 10 years after his retirement, he was granted access to Penn State football facilities, where he promptly abused young boys.

I'll try to keep the background on Sandusky's alleged infractions short (and I say alleged because as a law student, what would it say about my $180,000 education if I didn't presume his innocence?) and focus more on the sports end of things. I'll let the prosecutors and media handle the gross details part, or you can just click here. If these allegations are proven true - and let's be honest, bringing a 40 count complaint doesn't happen if the DA doesn't think conviction is extremely likely - it marks an epic failure on the part of the entire Penn State program, and makes even the strongest person weak at the thought of what those boys went through.

But what about the program? Quite clearly, there is major institutional failure here. There was an initial investigation in 1998 involving Sandusky showering with a boy in the Penn State building, and nothing came of that investigation. Legendary Head Coach Joe Paterno was told about something similar (albeit, much more graphic) in 2002, three years after Sandusky had resigned. So, we had the entire bureacracy of the program aware of Sandusky's transgressions in by at least 2002, with people in place to change something by 1998. So what happened? Hard to know for sure, but clearly there was a massive cover up attempt going on, as shown by the resignation of the Penn State Athletic Director already.

Time to go, Joe.
The real question, however, is about Paterno. Quite simply, Paterno must resign. While he testified before the grand jury that he was informed about Sandusky in 2002, there is no reason to believe he wouldn't have known about the initial investigation in 1998. Are we really supposed to believe that his defensive coordinator was being investigated for child sex abuse and he didn't know about it? Not a chance. Moreover, if I were the prosecution I would try to create the inference in the jury that he did know about the situation in 1998 (and thus prove lack of institutional control and willful negligence) by pointing to the fact that Sandusky, who was originally on the fast track to being named Paterno's successor, was informed otherwise and then promptly retired in 1999. For someone has consistent as Joe Paterno, sudden changes like that raise suspicions.

Moreover, after Sandusky retired Paterno let him maintain an office and wide open access to all Penn State football facilities for the next ten years. Sandusky used this to operate the children's charity that operated as a cover for him to target unsuspecting children. Granted, Sandusky was a defensive legend and had been with the program for years, but it seems strange that Paterno would grant him such open access to the program. In my opinion, this was all a way of maintaining a cover up and quieting the situation. The result, however, was only to promote Sandusky's behavior even more.

Worse, we know that Paterno was definitely informed by at least 2002, and he testified as much. Pennsylvania law requires those who discover or suspect child abuse to alert appropriate authorities. Paterno turned around and told his superiors (who are now resigning), who did nothing with the information. Paterno took no further steps, and Sandusky was allowed to have free reign over the facilities for the next 7 years. This kind of negligent conduct from a supposedly great man is unacceptable, and he needs to resign. Now.

Not only should Paterno resign, but so should the entire Penn State program. This needs to be a house cleaning like no one has ever seen. A football program and team is a tremendously tight-knit and protective entity, so this must be difficult. But therein also lies the problem - the closeness of the program makes it difficult to believe that the majority of the people in the program weren't aware of what was going on. It seems like Sandusky's behavior was Penn State's dirty little secret. Even now, as some officials are resigning and Paterno is going to testify against Sandusky, it just reeks like everyone turning on Sandusky and abandoning the coverup. For those reasons, the entire program is tainted and must go.

One final question I have is what the NCAA will do here. The NCAA talks constantly about "institutional control." They come down hard on schools like Ohio State, North Carolina, and presumably, Miami soon. But this comes at a whole different level. We're not talking about supplying players with cash, hookers, blow, cars, etc. This is a defensive coordinator using Penn State facilities to operate a charity to coerce young boys into an illegal and disgusting sexual relationship under the awareness of his superiors in the Penn State program, even after he retired. If that's not a lack of institutional control then we need a new rule book. I can only imagine the penalties they might face.

It's unreal for me to think that this is happening at a school like Penn State, which always seemed to be insulated from the nonsense going on at other schools. But in reality, Penn State is proving to be even worse than the rest of their counterparts in the NCAA (thereby offering an ironic microcosm of the hypocrisy that is the NCAA to begin with). Now, let's hope that the academic leaders at Penn State step in and clean up this mess. The amount of civil suits against the University are going to roll in after Sandusky's criminal trial is over, but they need to start now. Force the resignations of everyone, start fresh, and if they do nothing else - take care of the boys who were used by Sandusky and faced a football program that turned its back on them. No one can even understand what they have been through.


Katy Korth said...

When people cover up a horrible situation, you can assume two things: that they were a part of the problem by either not stopping it or (God forbid) knowingly letting it happen. The other issue is that apparently Penn State's reputation was far more precious to protect than the boys who really needed it. What a traumatic way to learn that grown ups aren't always role models.

Dave Johnsen said...

Agreed. It's terrible, isn't it? With everything we hear it gets worse and worse. Sandusky is a monster.