I’ve written before in the In Box about the bizarre behavior that people in authority exhibit when confronted with colleagues suspected of sexually assaulting children.
It’s not limited to the Roman Catholic church, or religious organizations in general. It’s not the Boy Scouts. Naturally, predators can hide in any organization — though obviously programs and organizations that serve young children are most vulnerable.
Now the football program run by legendary coach Joe Paterno at Penn State faces scrutiny, following revelations that a top defensive coordinator allegedly sexually assaulted young boys over a period of years.
What’s more, it appears now that a wide array of officials at Penn State knew about the suspicions. Paterno knew. And no one called the cops.
Paterno, a longtime coach with a largely spotless record, is under pressure because of his response to allegations brought to him in 2002 by a graduate assistant who said he had seen retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in the shower at the campus football complex.
Paterno reported the allegations to his boss, and Pennsylvania’s attorney general said it appeared that the coach had met his obligations under state law. Still, some critics have said that he should have reported the suspected abuse to police.
Well..duh. In this case, Paterno may be legally in the clear. But morally? The bottom line is that when you know of serious concerns about children being sexually abused, there is no gray zone.
There are no ambiguities. Joe Paterno was and is a powerful man, perhaps the most powerful man at Penn State. He should have made the call or insisted that someone else make it.
It’s important to note that calling the cops doesn’t mean smearing someone, or automatically convicting them of a crime. Some people suspected of this vile behavior will turn out to be perfectly innocent.
All it means when you bring in the police is that a complicated and dangerous situation is turned over to the experts who know how to handle it professionally, while protecting potentially vulnerable kids.
This isn’t the sort of thing that organizations are equipped to handle internally, even when they operate from the very best of intentions.
Joe Paterno is a legendary coach. He’s taught a lot of people a lot of good and honorable things over the years.
Maybe the silver lining of this mess is that his story will finally convince other coaches, administrators, teachers, clergy, volunteers and parents that this isn’t rocket science.
If you suspect, even slightly, that someone is molesting or abusing a young person, call 911.