Monday, November 14, 2011

Institutional failure

Like most Nebraskans, I'm a fan of the Nebraska football team.  I'm not the rabid sort, but I make it a point to find a TV or a radio on fall Saturdays. I watched Saturday's game against Penn State on TV, but the best part for me was on the radio, afterwards, as I puttered around in the garage and listened to Coach Pelini in the post-game show.

It was the coach's finest moment.  He spoke bluntly, and what he lacked in polish was more than made up for in candor and emotion:
I will be honest with you. Going into the football game, I didn’t think the game should have been played, for a lot of different reasons. My job as a football coach is to educate and to prepare the kids that come into the program for the rest of their life and that’s what we are. We’re a university system. The situation that’s going on is bigger than football. 
I had the same feeling. Something seemed so wrong about this.  Wednesday's spectacle of 10,000 clueless students rioting, the veneration of the former head coach, all this just smelled rotten.  While neither the fans nor the players are responsible for this mess, the institution of The Pennsylvania State University has some soul-searching ahead.

I urge you to read the grand jury presentment.   There is an old legal saw that a decent prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.  We all should remember that Jerry Sandusky is innocent before the law.  He will have his day of judgement, and it will be from a higher authority than you or me.  Assuming his innocence of the criminal charges that have been filed, I separate this from the actions of the institution, through its leaders, who, regardless of the veracity of the charges, should have quickly and decisively acted to protect children and fulfill their legal and moral obligations.  From their own sworn testimony before the grand jury, it is clear that a cascade of Penn State University personnel failed to take steps to intervene in an apparent felony sexual assault of a child in progress and to report a suspected violent crime to the police after becoming aware of the offense.

When you read the grand jury report, you learn that a 28 year-old graduate assistant, witnessing what he believed to be the first degree sexual assault of a child in the shower room, called his father.  The head football coach apparently felt no obligation at all beyond passing the graduate assistant's report along to the athletic director, who in turn told the senior vice president.  And the president of the University, informed that a staff member had seen some sort of discomforting activity in the shower between a former coach and a child, did not ask follow-up questions, investigate any further, or heed these obvious warning signs.

Everyone understands that evil exists in the world, and that in any institution a trusted person in a position of authority can succumb to its power.  We've seen in in churches, in schools, in police stations, in the halls of Congress, and in the White House.  Normally, we can separate the bad act of a person from the insitution itself.  How do you make that distinction, though, when the chain of culpability begins with the graduate assistant, and flows through the head football coach, the athletic director, the senior vice president of business and finance, and the president himself?  The problem, in this case, is not only an individual.

I will be curious to see how the NCAA reacts to this case of institutional failure.  How does (at best) ignoring, or (at worst) covering up the signs of 13 years of child sexual assault compare to something like failing to report that some players have received free tattoos? How to you deal with this situation, when the reaction of the entire chain of command at the University, faced with these unfathomable report of the rape of a child was:

to take away the alleged perpetrator's keys to the locker room?


Unknown said...

Thank you for posting the link. Very disturbing.

Anonymous said...

it's easy to judge when you have all the information in front of you, how many sex offenders were caught the first time they were reported? you can't just lock someone up without any evidence, this is an old story around there and sandusky spun it to where they were making false allegations should we disband the catholic church too? more priests were involved than just one there, and many more were in the coverup... what about youth soccer, because a coach commits a heinous crime, should we punish all the other kids and not let them play soccer and disband the league? that only adds to the victim count the only thing we should be talking about is that they FINALLY got him, and he is now in cuffs

Anonymous said...

I agree with your Blog 100%. Pedophiles know how to manipulate children to achieve their goals. However others in power have manipulated children in EVIL ways. Ex US Attorney General Janet Reno was never charged for allegedly manipulating children into false accusations of molestations by adults. Several innocent adults were destroyed but exonerated later as a result of Janet Reno's manipulation of children.

Almost as bad as that was her handling of the Waco BBQ that resulted in over 80 deaths. On Judgment Day both Sandusky and Reno will be in deep trouble. Both deserve a place in the hottest corner of Hell.

Gun Nut

Steve said...

I don't know how anyone can read the grand jury report and not feel that "heads should roll" due to the inaction that was rampant. It wasn't just the university, either. As I read it, local police and child welfare agencies were also notified and failed to protect against further incidents. This report raises many more questions than it answers, and I'm sure a lot more will be coming out in the future.

I'd like to think that Paterno and some of the other individuals involved at least thought they were doing the right thing, but without more facts, it is impossible to judge. If indeed there was intentional coverup going on, then there are a number of people who should be doing prison time over this, not just the pedaphile.

Randy 552 said...

This was horrible on so many levels I don't pretend to have an easy answer as I don't believe there is one. The emotional part of me says the entire PSU football program should be suspended until the criminal and civil cases are concluded.

The alleged pedophile retired in 1999 which was shortly after a "shower incident" that conclude with no criminal charges being filed. The warning sirens were clearly going off at that time and the institution appears to have known it.

I am appalled that due to lack of action other youth were victimized in the most life scaring way.

Until the legal proceedings have been concluded it is a program that needs to stay out of the public eye.

Anonymous said...

Gun Nut

While I understand the humaness of the "are sure to go to hell" view. I understand the bible and God's truth this way.
Jesus was a minister and healer umungst the retched, whores, lepers, and most low life scum mankind can muster.
I think, if we believe in the same bible, that maybe, perhaps, those involved in the mentionings of the comment you post may get the same sin clensing the rest of us "perfect" and "clean" believers get, ya think? Or am I one of those too? Amazing Grace>

Anonymous said...

Steve: I did the same thing and reacted the same as you. But after getting my thoughts aside from emotion, I remembered that something said, doe's not make something said, TRUE.
Some times the courts let our kids down, but it is the same system that all of you Vets fought for, built on the basis of freedom and all the tenents of the constitution, or whats left of it. GREAT COMMENT THOUGH, GOT ME THINKING. opps caps lock.