By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu, all over again.”
Confronted with allegations of criminal activity on the part of its own leaders, a revered institution looks the other way, circles the wagons, maintains its silence — and lets the crime continue. In one case, it was religion. Today, it’s college football.
America is shocked by the news out of Penn State, and rightfully so. At the heart of its phenomenally successful college football program were a group of men who betrayed the trust placed in them by students and parents. One was an apparent serial sexual abuser of underage boys. The rest were his enablers.
It’s hard to imagine more disgusting behavior than what we’ve learned about defensive line coach Jerry Sandusky, charged with sexually assaulting at least eight boys. In 1977, Sandusky founded a nonprofit organization, “The Second Mile,” to assist under-privileged boys — apparently, just so he could gain their confidence and take advantage of his access to them to abuse them sexually. But he would never have gotten away with it for so long without the help of his superiors.
At the very top is the legendary Joe Paterno, the most winning and long-lasting coach in college football. More than 65 seasons, 45 of which he served as head coach, “JoePa” led Penn State University to victory in 409 games, five undefeated seasons, and 24 bowl games. No other coach comes close, nor ever will.
Yet that glorious career has suddenly crashed in disgrace. Penn State trustees fired Paterno, rather than let him finish the season, as he had planned. They also fired University President Graham Spanier and booted athletic director Tim Curley, and Vice President Gary Schultz, both charged with lying to the grand jury.
Trustees did the right thing. Just read the grand jury report. It tells how, back in 2002, graduate assistant Mike McQueary told Paterno he’d come across assistant coach Jerry Sandusky having sex in the shower with what appeared to be a 10-year-old boy. Or, to put it bluntly, raping a child. The next day, Paterno informed Tim Curley of what he’d been told. Later, after Curley and Schultz met separately with McQueary, they in turn briefed President Spanier on the matter — and ordered Sandusky to surrender his locker keys. Period.
That was it. Confronted with one of the most serious allegations of criminal behavior, sex with children, university officials acted as if Sandusky had been accused of doing nothing more serious than going 40 mph in a 35 mph zone. They were all professionals in powerful jobs. Yet not one of them did what anybody with any decency should have done: pick up the phone and say, “Hey, here’s the phone. Either you call the police right now, or I’ll do it myself.”
What were they thinking? Obviously, they weren’t thinking about the university, common decency, morality, the law, or the boys under their care. They were thinking only about the narrow world they live in, where football is king and nothing else matters or is allowed to get in the way. After all, calling authorities might distract from another winning season. So they decided, instead, to ignore the problem and hope it would go away.
But, of course, it didn’t. Because, in the meantime, while still hanging around campus, Sandusky continued to lure innocent young boys into his bedroom — just like so many predatory priests, charged with sexual abuse but simply re-assigned by their bishop from one parish to the next, continued to prey on altar boys.
There are so many parallels between the Catholic Church scandal and the Penn State scandal. In both cases, the perpetrators were men. In both, the victims were children. In both, the crimes were sexual assault. And in both the enablers were men in power — men, men, what’s wrong with these men? — who cared more about preserving the reputation of the mighty institution they led than obeying the law or protecting the lives of the people they were responsible for.
There’s one big difference between the Catholic Church and Penn State. Once the cover-up came to light, coach Joe Paterno and University President Graham Spanier were immediately fired. Yet, 10 years later, not one — not one! — Catholic bishop has been fired. Religion is still more powerful than football.
If you see anything resembling sex with a child … call the police!
© 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.