America's code of silence

College SportsAbusive BehaviorCollege BasketballFootballThe Pennsylvania State UniversityJerry SanduskyBasketball

The sports world is buzzing, and not only about the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, the NBA lockout settlement, Louisiana State’s football Tigers, and the Kentucky Wildcats and the NCAA basketball season.
Unfortunately, the buzz also is about the locker room scandal at Penn State and the dismissal of their head football coach of some 46 years, the iconic Joe Paterno — as well as the firing of the university president, the indictments of two university officials and the arrest of an alleged child molester, former defensive coach Jerry Sandusky.
As we have learned from media reports, there were accusations in 1998 about “showering” with a young boy, which led to Sandusky’s early departure in 1999. Incredibly, he kept an office at the Penn State athletic facilities and access to the locker room, where again in 2002 he was witnessed in the shower with a young boy.
The grad assistant who witnessed the act chose to tell his father and then coach Paterno the next day rather than immediately call the police. The witness, Mike McQueary, is now a wide receivers coach for the Nittany Lions and currently on administrative leave. After that incident, Sandusky retired from coaching but kept his position at The Second Mile, a foundation that Sandusky founded to assist disadvantaged youth.
Reportedly, after the 2002 incident the foundation’s board admonished Sandusky to stay away from young boys. The alleged perpetrator is now free on bail, and during an interview with sports commentator Bob Costas admitted to “horsing around” with a young naked boy in the shower after a “workout” in 2002.
The grand jury that indicted Sandusky on child molestation charges involving at least eight boys stated that The Second Mile foundation served as a means to “groom” young vulnerable boys from disadvantaged homes as potential victims. Many media commentators have voiced the opinion that Penn State officials who knew of a sexual predator in their ranks chose to protect the image of the institution and the football program rather than to risk scandal by having him prosecuted.
Barry Switzer, former coach of Oklahoma’s football Sooners, has opined that it is inconceivable that the Penn State football coaching staff wasn’t aware of the 1998 and 2002 allegations about Sandusky — particularly in light of the fact that several had served together with him for 30 years or more.
On a broader scale, the Penn State scandal calls to mind the child molestation scandal among Catholic priests in the Boston area, and how the Cardinal in charge chose to protect his priests and the church from scandal by simply transferring the accused priests to other functions.
One is also reminded of the “code of silence” among many police departments. One doesn’t rat out a fellow officer. Similarly, especially in the inner cities, it’s not considered wise to be a snitch and communicate to the authorities about your neighborhood lawbreakers and gang members. Anyone who read “The Godfather” knows mafia members swear a blood oath to protect the “Cosa Nostra” or “our thing” — which happens to be about every crime imaginable.
Another book and movie, “All the President’s Men,” related the resignation of President Nixon after the cover-up of a petty burglary at the political opposition’s headquarters. One also recalls President Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman,” remark and his repeated lies to the media about a sex act with a young female intern in the Oval Office.
Long-time Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, President Lyndon Johnson’s mentor, admonished freshmen Congressmen: “If you want to get along, you have to go along.” Congress also has had its sex scandals involving young congressional pages and much older House members.
Back on the college campus at Syracuse University, allegations about repeated molestation of a ball boy that resulted in the firing of long-time assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine give the impression that the Penn State affair may have opened Pandora’s Box. One wonders how many more campus sex scandals are waiting to be uncovered.
The failure to act decisively about a child predator on the part of Penn State coaches and officials shows a disregard for the welfare of children and an attitude of protecting “our thing.” If things go according to the grand jury’s wishes and Penn State is also found civilly liable, that institution could be paying millions of dollars to victims’ families. It could experience a drop in donations and find that fewer high school football stars, or academic-minded students, will want to join the community at Happy Valley, Pennsylvania.

Dan Norvell, retired to Danville after 20 years working overseas and a career in educational publishing that involved many visits to university campuses, including Penn State.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times