Penn State, Jerry Sandusky, And Joe Paterno: The Law Only Covers So Much

Everyone involved in the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse case is culpable for not acting upon their moral responsibility to alert the police in 2002. And as a result, they should all be fired, including legendary coach Joe Paterno.

I don't really need outrage here. Facts should be enough for you. Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley and VP of Finance and Operations Gary Schultz have been accused of perjuring themselves in a grand jury investigation of sexual abuse involving Jerry Sandusky, former Penn State defensive coordinator. Sandusky allegedly abused a child within the walls of the Penn State football facility with a third party witness looking on in horror in the year 2002. This was one of eight cases listed in the grand jury finding issued by the State of Pennsylvania. At least one happened.

In response, Penn State did not call the police. They did other things, but they did not call the police. Joe Paterno did not call the police, and Tim Curley did not call the police, and Gary Schultz did not call the police. The graduate assistant who witnessed the act did not call the police. Penn State President Graham Spanier did not call the police. A reported child molester and rapist was living and working in their midst, and working in a program that brought him into contact with boys, and not one person called the police.


RELATED: Complete Coverage of the Jerry Sandusky Case

The legal case here covers that which is legally enforceable. We live in a society of laws, and those laws have limits. All of the people involved here who should have called the police instead reported what they were supposed to under Pennsylvania law, to a certain extent. The failure came at the top of the chain of command. Curley and Schultz short-circuited the proper course of action, protected Sandusky and the reputation of the university, and behaved in a manner not consistent with the law in doing so and then lying about it to a grand jury. They are charged with third-degree felonies, and have already both lost their jobs over the matter. Sandusky will most likely die in prison.

That is what is covered by the law.

The rest is a matter of morality. The reporting occurred in 2002. At that point, if someone had called the police, Sandusky could have been caught. There is a section dated "Victim One" in the grand jury finding. This case of abuse unfolded from 2005 to 2009. This case happened after 2002, when Sandusky should have been reported, and then prosecuted, and then placed in prison after a fair trial. 

Not one person called the police.

This is not the army. There is a chain of command in places like Penn State, but ultimately a nation of laws is governed by citizens, not cogs in an institution. Every person who knew about this and passed it along is culpable in the ongoing abuse of children by Sandusky. That is a painful thing to write, but every person who knew something and turned away is culpable--even those not named in this case, whose names will never be known, and who let an institution's assumed weight blunt their moral sensibilities.

There is one person who did the right thing: Steven Turchetta, the high school football coach and assistant principal who reported Sandusky's inappropriate behavior, had him banned from the school district, and whose allegations led to a grand jury investigation.

Everyone else involved took half-measures. Those people include the grad assistant who reported the abuse to Paterno, but who never bothered to follow up with the case despite watching a young boy sodomized by someone he knew to be working with children on a regular basis. Paterno reported the allegations upward, but then seemingly forgot about them, allowing Sandusky to walk free. Schultz and Curley deliberately hid bad news from their superior like toddlers stuffing soiled pants behind furniture to avoid being caught with a mess on their hands.

The law only covers so much. Morality covers the rest. I tend to be very permissive with the definition of morality, but there are a few things that are non-negotiables. Your person is sacrosanct. Your property should be safe. Your basic rights should be guaranteed.

At the bare minimum, a child being raped by anyone should be reported to the police. This might make me a feather-headed idealist, but it seems like the least you can do for your fellow citizen. Consensus may be hard to come by in our nation, but this seems like something we can agree on as a people. If you see a child being raped, you should call the police.

This kind of bold thinking may seem obvious to some. It was not to more than one person at Penn State, people who assumed that the university had some kind of other law that overlapped with Jerry Sandusky law, and with Paterno law, or whatever other pseudo-legality they thought kept them from calling the police and saying, "I think we have a child molester working in and around our program."

And yet no one said anything. If everyone at Penn State is okay with this, then the heads stop rolling here. If you're not, then you demand the resignations of everyone involved. This includes Joe Paterno, who knew, but then abandoned his moral responsibility to the cold dictates of the org chart.

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