The revelation that Jerry Sandusky, an assistant coach at Penn State's football program, had molested boys for years right under the noses of his fellow coaches and the university administration raises a number of questions. But perhaps foremost among them is how there's such a tremendous double standard in the conversation about child abuse in this instance.
What do I mean? Think Michael Jackson, who has mostly managed to skate free of child abuse accusations in his post-death legacy. Granted, he was innocent until proven guilty and he may have been acquitted on a couple of occasions, but one could make the argument that you can only hear the same accusations so many times before you can't help but wonder if they're true. But if Michael Jackson was not a pop star, but rather an Average Joe, would be been given the same benefit of the doubt? How about someone who knew Jackson was abusing kids and did nothing about it?
Here in we begin the discussion of the recently deceased Joe Paterno, the legendary football coach of Penn State who was fired by the university after the Sandusky accusations made national news. Paterno's memorial service was held yesterday to a "sold out crowd," so to speak, in fact, people were even trying to sell tickets on eBay for inflated prices. The fervour over Peterno's passing, as well as the near riot on campus last fall when the coach was fired, indicates a bizarre thought process on the part of the Penn State community. Again, if Paterno was "Average Joe" Paterno, would he been given what was basically a state funeral? Would he have even been given anything more than pine box and a hole in the ground?
Most appallingly were comments made by Phil Knight, chairman of Nike. Here's what he said:
"It turns out [Paterno] gave full disclosure to his superiors, information that went up the chain to the head of the campus police and the president of the school. The matter was in the hands of a world-class university and a president with an outstanding national reputation."Whatever the details of the [school's] investigation are, this much is clear to me, if there is a villain in this tragedy, it lies in that investigation, not in Joe Paterno...
I don't think anyone's saying that the university administration is blameless, and I don't think anyone has said that previously, but is Paterno blameless? Is he so sainted by the Penn State campus that it was enough for him to tell his boss, wash his hands of it, and never follow up? Just on an interpersonal level, how do you even interact with someone when you catch them abusing a child? How was he able to work with Sandusky for years knowing what he knew? Paterno was either purposefully ignorant, or eternally trustful, but would he have gotten away with that if he weren't the coach? I highly doubt it.
The immediate visceral reaction to anyone revealed to be a pedophile, even if there's only the accusation, is to clear the deck. That person is abandoned by their friends, their family, their co-workers, everybody. Unless you're famous. Then you get the benefit of the doubt.
Of course, none of this is to say that Paterno's accomplishments don't deserve to be honoured, and that's also not to say that what's right is to vilify anyone accused of a crime. Paterno was an accomplished football coach, but he also could have, and should have done more about Sandusky, and so should have Penn State.
There's a further discussion about how football's a business to some U.S. colleges, one that seems to take precedence over education young people, the point of a university, but this about personal responsibility, and in the case of Sandusky, there was none evident on the part of anyone there. That is the reason we should be hesitant about handing Paterno too many laurels, he knew something was wrong and for whatever reason didn't do anything about it other than the bare minimum. He's not a villain for that, but he was part of the problem, and if it had been anyone else, that's literally the nicest thing anyone would have said about him.