By EMMA JANGER
December 6, 2011
The tragic Penn State scandal unfolding over the past few weeks has brought to light many of the issues that plague society at large. This month former coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on 40 counts of molesting eight young boys over a 15-year period. After his arrest, the institutional cover-up of his molestations came to light, leading the Board of Trustees at Penn State to fire head coach Joe Paterno and University President Graham Spanier.
Upon the firing of beloved “JoePa,” Penn State students rioted. Not because a coach of theirs had molested young boys. Not because many in the athletic department, and possibly higher up, had known about it and done nothing. No, they protested because Paterno was fired. Their loyalty to the “winningest” coach in major college football far outstripped their compassion for the young boys who were molested. With a story like this, it’s hard to know where to begin. Click here for a more comprehensive timeline of the events.
First, let’s talk about Sandusky himself. While he was a coach at Penn State, he founded the charity, The Second Mile, to help at-risk boys in the State College, PA region. Through The Second Mile, Sandusky was in contact with some of the most vulnerable boys, many of whom if put into inappropriate situations would not have had a person they trust to turn to, making it more likely that any allegations would be discredited. What’s more, he developed extremely trusting relationships with these boys. Not only did he molest the eight young boys, but he completely took advantage of the trust that they had placed in him.
Perhaps even more troubling, in his most recent interview he seems to have no concept of the nature of his behavior. Although he denies all the accusations of rape and assault, he admits to both horseplay and showering with boys as young as eight. Not only does he not show remorse for his actions, but he has no appreciation for the fact that such behavior is abusive. He portrays no understanding of the numerous boundaries his behavior (even it were confined to showering with young boys) crosses. The mindset that could rationalize these actions must necessarily be one that is unconcerned with the welfare and rights of others, especially of those with no ability to make their voice heard.
Given the horrific nature of Sandusky’s crimes, it should be noted that his crime is not the only appalling aspect of the story. Instead Penn State’s reaction to his arrest has garnered the most media attention. Upon Sandusky’s arrest both Paterno and Spanier were fired. They did not commit the crimes themselves, so why then did Penn State take such immediate, and disliked, action against them? Because, fortunately the Penn State Board of Trustees recognizes that institutional cover-ups of such acts cannot be permitted in any shape or form and that those who take place in such cover ups should not be a part of any institution.
But why would Paterno participate in such a cover-up? The Penn State football program has been hailed as one of the most upstanding major college football programs in the country. Unlike many other programs it had no NCAA violations and emphasized how academically strong its athletes were. And yet, the men in charge of this program were willing to cover-up Sandusky’s crimes. This is indicative of a problem that is much wider-spread than just Penn State. That is, the systemic issue of people in power to protect others in power for the good of some greater institution or authority over the well-being of others.
Despite clear evidence that Sandusky was raping a young boy, Paterno did nothing. His graduate assistant Mike McQueary who witnessed the act, did not call the police, he reported it to Paterno. Neither of these men reported Sandusky’s actions to the authorities. Sandusky’s his arrest would harm his image and by extent, to Penn State’s. Rather than stand up for the vulnerable boys who had been abused, Paterno and Co. decided to protect their own colleague and image. Such decisions are not unique to Penn State.
The molestation scandals in the Catholic Church follow a similar narrative. Numerous Bishops covered up the actions of priests who molested young boys because to report them would harm the reputation of the Church at large. Those in power, protect others in power. The sheer number of people willing to cover up the actions of rapists indicate the fear that when rape is reported the person who blew the whistle will be blamed for the chaos that ensues rather than the person who started it all by raping.
Such actions show that the incident at Penn State is reflective of society’s rape culture. Although rape culture is usually used to refer to sexual violence against women, it is time to move beyond this gender-specific idea. Rape of young boys is also swept under the rug and even condoned. “Rape culture flourishes [because] rapists are capable of taking advantage of their relative privilege over their victims and a culture that looks askance at those who rock the boat by complaining about abuse.” Paterno’s willingness to cover-up Sandusky’s actions are just one example of a systemic problem, one that unless we change how rape and rape victims are viewed, will be difficult to move past.
The ingrained nature of these attitudes makes the Penn State Board of Trustee’s actions all the more heartening. It is deeply troubling that Sandusky was protected for over ten years, and allowed continued contact with young boys. But as soon as the allegations and arrest were made public, Penn State took immediate action. They showed that they recognized that it was not Sandusky alone who was responsible, but that all those who failed to protect the boys and report the crimes were at fault to. Their immediate firing of Paterno and Spanier sends a clear message that such behaviors cannot and will not be tolerated. And that is good news indeed.
Emma Janger is a freshman in Yale College. She is a staff writer for Broad Recognition.