I’ve been trying for days to write about Penn State. It’s not that I’m producing a Pulitzer-worthy piece here. It’s that subject is so warped, so overwhelming, so unreal, that I have to stop and do something else. At this point, I think the only thing to do is dive in.
First, let me say I debated about writing this. Even last night, I said to my friend Desmond that I didn’t know if I could. There are many reasons why, but a big reason is that I know none of these people. I don’t live there. There is a part of me which feels I am exploiting these victims even more by writing about it. The thing of it is, and this is what Desmond not-so-gently reminded me, this whole issue blew up because people didn’t attack it head on. Nothing gets solved by silence. I have a utility which allows discussion and it is my responsibility to use it.
I’m going to try to be economic in my description of what happened. Here is a link to the grand jury presentment which gives detailed, at times graphic, information. A grand jury in Pennsylvania has found sufficient evidence to charge former Penn State assistant coach Gerald Sandusky with forty criminal counts including involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, corruption of minors, indecent assault, and unlawful contact with a minor. According to the presentment Sandusky has molested children at, among other places, an elementary school, a high school, and on the Penn State campus. In one sickening instance, now-assistant football coach Mike McQueary (he is referred to as the “graduate assistant” in the presentment and is currently on administrative leave from the school) was in the locker room of the football building when he heard noises he took to be sexual activity coming from the shower area. He saw Sandusky naked, behind a young boy who was also naked and whose hands were against the wall of the shower.
The presentment contains stomach-churning descriptions of Sandusky wrestling naked with children, a weird “back cracking” rouse, molesting children on trips to football bowl games, in his car, in his home. There is a description of Sandusky, after being confronted by the mother of a victim, saying he wished he were dead. And, of course, it goes beyond just Sandusky’s actions. Time after time, Penn State officials were made aware of inappropriate behavior by Sandusky on the Penn State campus, and time after time, Penn State officials kept silent. It does not appear that Penn State ever notified authorities outside the Penn State realm. McQueary testified he told his father of the rape. He then made Joe Paterno aware of it. After that, it became more and more filtered.
I want to stop here and trace the path of that testimony. The grand jury notes in the presentment that it finds McQueary to be a credible witness. The presentment notes that, “The graduate assistant was shocked but noticed both Victim 2 and Sandusky saw him. The graduate assistant left immediately, distraught.” McQueary called his father, went to his father’s house. His father told him to call Paterno. The next day, he calls Paterno and meets him at Paterno’s house. Paterno calls Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley. About a week and a half later, Curley and McQueary meet with Gary Schultz, Penn State’s Vice President for Finance and Business. Among other things, Schultz oversaw Penn State’s police force. McQueary again says he witnessed Sandusky having anal sex with the child. Curley and Schultz later deny knowledge of the rape. They say they only are aware of something of a possible sexual nature happened in the showers.
If you have read reports today, you know that McQueary has now sent an email to friends in which he denies he did nothing to stop the rape. According to McQueary, “I did stop it, not physically, but made sure it was stopped when I left that locker room.” I don’t know what that means and I don’t know why it’s not in the grand jury presentment. At no point in the presentment does it say he did anything actionable at the time he witnessed the rape to stop it. If he had tried to stop it then, wouldn’t a grand jury room be the place to say so? Telling your buds in one thing. I’d make it clear to the body who is determining if there is enough evidence to indict people that I tried to stop it.
There are so many twists and turns in this thing. There are a lot of contradictions in testimony about who know what and whom they told.
Here’s the bottom line for me.
Grand juries only see what the prosecutor gives them. Witnesses do not have counsel present and are prevented from disclosing what happens in a grand jury unless ordered to do so. There is no judge present. A grand jury decides if there is a strong suspicion the individual committed the alleged crime and if there is enough evidence to indict.
I understand the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven. I get it. The legal system has to be allowed to do its work. You and I get that. The people directly involved in this thing do not seem to grasp that concept. I’m not going to go on about the evils of Division I college sports and how it creates a monarchical culture where accountability is a vague concept and life comes down to winning and getting butts in seats. I live in Memphis. Don’t tell me I don’t know about the evils of Division I play.
The fact that people like Joe Paterno are so coddled they forget how to operate in the real world doesn’t fly with me. Telling your boss a graduate assistant saw a former coach raping a child DOES NOT CUT IT. Now, there are many students and Penn State alums upset over Paterno’s firing. Kids, you’re young. I understand where your priorities are. I was young once too. You think that because Paterno, Curley, and the rest of them didn’t actually molest anyone they’re not as culpable. You don’t want to see a legendary coach’s legacy tarnished over the actions of others. You can still have your game wins. At this point, you’re the only ones who care about them. Keep them.
Every person who heard something, saw something, knew someone who saw something or heard something and did not report it is guilty of child endangerment. It doesn’t matter who it is. It doesn’t matter what they do. If I work in an insurance office and I see a former employee raping a child, I don’t report it to my boss. I get the child. I call the police. I make sure the child is safe. RIGHT THEN. There is none of this oh, you don’t understand. I understand perfectly. You’re a coward. It’s not your kid. Your job could be in danger. It’s not your problem.
How’s that working for you?
Gerald Sandusky is sick. Raping young boys is not a lifestyle choice, but it doesn’t mean he should be excused for his behavior. It means he needs to get treatment and be away from children. He may have a compulsion, but the Penn State staff does not. What they did was willfully ignore a dangerous situation. They took away his keys and hoped to displace his criminal activities. Throw it in someone else’s lap. That part worked. It’s now in the hands of the criminal justice system.
Now Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania wants to get Congress involved. That’s a good idea. Involve a body that couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if there were directions on the heel. If it is believed federal law was violated, (There is a possibility the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act was violated) the FBI should become involved. Not Congress.
Here’s where I am with this. I said the other day that evil triumphs when good men do nothing. My friend Jessica said that is never true because good men always do something. She’s right. She’s absolutely right. Every single one of us should care about this. As a society, and this is a big statement, we have to take a stand that we will not be complicit in the abuse. To do that, we’ve got to keep talking about it, writing about it, pushing back on law enforcement, and expecting more from our so-called leaders.
Doing nothing is a choice. And it is a dangerous, selfish, and cowardly choice. It is so overwhelming thinking about all the children exploited as these children were. The way to combat that is to be selfish differently. Focus on the children in your home, your church, your charity, your neighborhood. Ultimately, if we take care of our tribes, the rest will take care of itself. That’s something we can do. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., you don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.