OT: Child Abuse, Evil, Jerry Sandusky, and Why the Response to the PSU Emails is (kinda) Wrong.

Submitted by stephenrjking on June 30th, 2012 at 2:15 AM


This is a risky topic to address, and it's probably easier to just say nothing. I might even change my mind and delete this halfway through. Before flaming, I encourage readers to read the entire argument. Wordy, but important.

Emails have been released by CNN (see relevant thread) regarding the failure of PSU administrators to intervene in the Jerry Sandusky case. There could be and likely will be new information that will increase our understanding of the terrible choices they made. It is clear that they had information to act upon and chose not to act on it. 

The reaction on this board and in other venues has been understandably strong. The choices made by the involved administrators, up to and including the president of the University, resulted in a predator being allowed to continue preying upon vulnerable children. They may be and, facts permitting, should be held legally responsible for this. 

But I have a question for the people doubling down on character assasination of them and the labelling of them as "conspirators" or people who deliberately helped a man rape children. Do you want to prevent these sorts of things from happening in the future?

Because if one actually wants to protect themselves and others from such terrible behavior, demonizing those who failed to stop the activity is extremely counter-productive. Here's why:

By painting them as genuinely evil people who deliberately consented to and abetted the rape of children to protect their interests, we create a comfortable picture of evil that is, conveniently, impossible for us as "good" people to ever approach. This fits with our common cultural narratives that most people are good but that there are a few villainous, evil people who perpetrate most of the bad things that happen in society. Darth Spanier and Brotherhood of Evil Administrators become classic movie villains, diabolically plotting how best to hurt others and help their own interests. We lump them in with Lex Luthor, Osama Bin Laden, and Adolf Hitler. And we comfort ourselves knowing that we will never be that bad.

But in many of these cases, and quite possibly this one, the events are much more complex; in truth, virtually everybody believes they are good people who generally try to do the right thing. This appears to be true for the Brotherhood of Evil Administrators: the emails that I've seen use words like "Humane" and "Right thing to do." 

My recollection is that evidence from the trial suggests that Mike McQueary's report of what he saw in the shower got softened with each retelling up the chain. What was rape became "horseplay" and "inappropriate touching." Now, they should have known that there was something afoot (especially with previous allegations regarding Sandusky). However, as they thought about it--someone they knew and (wrongly) respected, allegations that weren't proof, and the danger of forever ruining the reputation of a man they believed could still be innocent--they talked themselves out of aggressive steps for what they thought were good, humane reasons. And, frankly, they must have had a hard time comprehending that something so evil could be occurring. 

And as a result they did nothing.

Here's the problem: men with information about criminal activity took "steps" that they believed were good, smart, and even right steps. It took some mental gymnastics, but those were easier than assuming the alternative. In their realm of experience they could not comprehend what they were dealing with, and defaulted to a rose-colored view of the situation. It is unlikely that they made a conscious choice to allow such behavior to remain un-addressed for their own personal ends; it is far more likely that in their own minds they talked themselves into believing that they were doing something "right."

And that's what is dangerous about this: If one believes that only truly evil people could allow such things to happen, then one becomes vulnerable to allowing it him or herself. Because we can tell ourselves, "I'm not an enabler or a conspirator like those terrible PSU administrators." We don't believe we know anyone as awful as Sandusky, because everyone we know is a pretty decent person. 

This is an important matter to me because, as a person in the ministry, I am a mandatory reporter and I have a responsibility to be vigilant about this sort of thing. We have a number of strong safeguards in our church to protect ourselves and the children involved in our ministry from harm or even the appearance of harm. And I can never afford to believe that because so-and-so is a nice guy that nothing could ever happen, nor that since I am well-meaning and "dealing with the issue" that it must be okay and can't possibly be as bad as the Sandusky situation.

And neither can you. The situation could be marginal; it could involve a good person. It might "probably be okay." And we tell ourselves that we're good people so we can't possibly be getting it that wrong. 

Maybe it's not child molestation. Maybe it's a friend who drives home a bit loaded but you think he'll be okay. Maybe it's a guy who you think probably roughs up his girlfriend when he's angry. Or any number of other things. The consequences of intervention are so incomprehensible (lost friendship, court, prison) that we find excuses not to do it, and since we're not wearing Joker make-up we figure we're not doing badly.

And evil people continue to do evil.

When evil people are abetted it is usually not by third parties who want them to continue; it is usually by good people who never make a conscious choice to do wrong.

What the PSU administrators did was reprehensible; and it is quite possible that it was reprehensible despite them never endorsing Sandusky's behavior. 

As you consider your thoughts regarding the Penn State administration (and let me again be clear, they are not the perpetrators, but they had a responsibility to address what they knew and failed to do so. I am not and will not defend them) remember that if you were ever to be in that situation, and you might, the choices you have to make will not be clear-cut. They will be hard. The right choice may actually be the harder one, and you may have good reasons not to make it; make it anyway. 

Do Right. 



June 30th, 2012 at 2:39 AM ^

If you witness a murder and don't report it, quoting the bystander effect will not absolve you of wrongdoing. No, these choices are NOT easy for them to make, but the right ones rarely are.

Not to get policitical, but Hitler thought he was doing the right thing with the Holocaust. He believed that killing all of the "inferiors" is what would be best for the world. Being able to justify it does not make it right.

It's difficult to address this without getting into a discussion of an "absolute morality." Killing is wrong. But there are some times when it is justified. Does that make it right? Well, no. Extinguishing a life is never the "right" thing to do, but sometimes it is accepted as the only action. Not talking about this was not "the only option" here. It was their way of covering their own asses and the University's, too.


Maybe it's not child molestation. Maybe it's a friend who drives home a bit loaded but you think he'll be okay. Maybe it's a guy who you think probably roughs up his girlfriend when he's angry. Or any number of other things. The consequences of intervention are so incomprehensible (lost friendship, court, prison) that we find excuses not to do it, and since we're not wearing Joker make-up we figure we're not doing badly.


In any of those situations, there is no question as to what's "right." Driving drunk is bad. Hitting your girlfriend is bad. No, it's not easy to say something, but it's the right thing to do. If your friend hit someone and killed them while driving drunk, you can say "I thought he was OK to drive" as much as you want, but you are still responsible because you did not take the keys from him. If your friend beat his girlfriend to death, and you say "well, he normally just punched her in the stomach so I didn't see this happening," that does not absolve you of wrongdoing. Inaction is not as bad as the actual offense, but sllowing someone to come to harm from your inaction is not excusable.

I agree that it isn't always black and white, but that's where it stops. There are (assumedly) very few truly evil people in the world. That does not mean that people cannot make selfish decisions, or not act because of whatever reason they see fit. The truth of the matter is that EVERYONE who did nothing about this is complicit. No, they did not rape little boys, but their inaction allowed others to be harmed, and for that, they are also at fault.

I hate to take moral advice from movies, but I think this is the perfect place for it. From Boondock Saints:


Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.


June 30th, 2012 at 3:08 AM ^

But it (kind of) sounded like he was saying it was justifiable. But it's not.

I know he wasn't defending the people who did nothing, but it kind of sounded that way. While yes, I understand that it is not black-and-white, I also don't think it's as convoluted as OP was suggesting.

Like I said, I may have misread. But I think saying that these people's reactions were understandable is, to some extent, forgiving them. What they did was wrong, pure and simple. There is no grey area. No, they weren't "wearing a joker mask," but their actions were still evil and selfish. That's all it is.


June 30th, 2012 at 3:17 AM ^

My point is that the justified what they did to themselves. The language I used about their actions ("reprehensible" for example") isn't intended to leave gray area. The point is that we're all good at justifying our own actions, which means we are in danger of permitting unambiguously bad things to happen if we are not vigilant.


June 30th, 2012 at 3:34 AM ^

It's late, I'm tired from working nights, and I must have just concentrated on the wrong part of your post with regards to where I thought you were placing emphasis. Obviously this is a terrible thing, and we are all responsible for ensuring we do the right thing if that time ever comes.

I'm tired, so I'm going to stop at the risk of causing a huge "thing" here. I appreciated what you wrote but felt like it was a little too "stop picking on these people" for the gravity of the situation.

coastal blue

June 30th, 2012 at 3:05 PM ^

Yes, but rarely do our actions (or inactions in this case) lead to a decade of child molestation and rape. 

There's literally no excuse for allowing Sandusky free reign of Penn State facilities when you know he was, at the very least, acting inappropriately with a child. Especially if its true that they knew this wasn't the first time. 

In fact, if they knew about the 1998 incident, as CNN asserts, then your entire post falls apart completely. 


June 30th, 2012 at 3:13 AM ^

I should have known this would happen. This subject might be too emotionally charged to have a rational discussion, but since it is so important I thought it was worth a try.

In my post, I made it clear that: 1. The PSU admin is, in my opinion, morally and legally culpable; 2. That even in complex situations it is imperative to do the right thing. Perhaps I should have defined "the right thing" more clearly, but in the case of child abuse it is obviously to report to authorities and to protect the child above all other considerations.

You actually seem to agree with everything I've said.


June 30th, 2012 at 3:28 AM ^

I don't think I got "irrational," but I apologize if it semed that way. I just latched more on to the "they thought they were doing the right thing" angle of it, seemingly trying to place it in the grey area. In my opinion, that is absolutely no justification. It may have helped me understand if you had said what the "right thing" would be, but insinuating that there might be a "grey area" (which you might not have and I may have just interpreted it that way) reduced the amount of responsibility placed on those people.

By calling out the board for "demonizing" the people, isn't that just saying "hey, it's not black-and-white?" But it is. There was a right and wrong course of action. They had two choices: go to the cops, or don't. While they didn't rape the kids themselves, they allowed for it to continue to happen, and thus are (almost) as responsible for all of the later assults as Sandusky. 

We all say we would do the right thing. Just because other people don't, doesn't mean that when we don't, we're not responsible for our actions.

Obviously you don't condone any of the actions of any parties here. After reading the above comment, I realize you agree with me on that point, but I don't believe you were clear enough in your OP. You seemed to concentrate more on the "well, they thought they were right" aspect.

I think the board is entirely capable of having a rational conversation about this. My comment wasn't "irrational," but you could have been more clear.


June 30th, 2012 at 3:32 AM ^

I, too, spoke too strongly, though I hadn't intended to label you as particularly irrational. That came across, so I apologize myself.

The trends I identify are not unique to this board, and indeed my posting this here is a vote in the board's favor regarding this kind of conversation--most aren't worth the effort.


June 30th, 2012 at 10:44 AM ^

They are many, many OPs on this subject all over the internet demonizing the people who knew something and should have acted. Most of them profess they would have acted differently and done the right thing.

I believe your point is: You may profess you would do the right thing, but when truely faced with such a situation: someone you know and respect -- who for as long as you have know has outwardly appeared to be good person -- doing something so heinous ... well will you really act?

I believe stephenrjking is trying to challenge us to really think about the situation, rather than jump to a conviction that this wouldn't happen if it were me and move on.

Tragically, even someone as great as Joe Paterno didn't act, and it undid everything for him. If Joe Pa didn't act - would you? Reputation of the program aside, would you if one of your close freinds was the one doing evil?

And in the end, this is the lesson we all need to take out of the Sandusky case: don't allow your mind to explain away what you thought you saw, and once you act, continue to act until you are certain the ball is not dropped.

Thank you stephenrjking for making that point.




June 30th, 2012 at 3:45 PM ^

Without long commentary on the discussion of what you or I or anyone else might have done in the same situation, I would say that one clear problem here is that Joe Paterno was a person of seriously mixed ethical standards. Just about all of us are, of course, but it appears that the label of "greatness" is one that should be used very advisedly as something that others put upon a man who seems to have accepted it to his own detriment. From all that I have read, the Penn State athletic department was a kingdom ruled by a king who came to believe all that was said of him, and who established, with the support of others, an untouchable, self-regulating, self-serving, and self-perpetuating closed system. Such a system cannot allow the possibility of its members and devotees being subject to outside oversight and accountability.

So, I am not shocked that this "great" man did not act, as he lived in a fantasy power world of his own making, where those who questioned his authority or decisions were treated as paraiahs and often subject to sanctions, even to the extent of losing their jobs or reputations (see some of the reports on the attempts from compliance personnel to hold players accountable for various activities). No doubt it is difficult to act rightly in situations where our self-interest is challenged; how much more difficult when you feel that you are above the rules that would protect you and others from acting rightly.


July 1st, 2012 at 3:46 PM ^

before this scandal, I think most people looked at Joe Paterno as the old man of college football. A kind of grandfatherly figure who when compared to the likes of Saban and Carrol, carried and air of doing things the old fashioned (more or less) right way. We ovelooked some of the signals along the way as far as how he handled cases with his football players. And most people figured he'd go down like Bear Bryant or Bo Schmbechler as one of the greats to whom we should look up to. That is the great Joe Paterno I am referring to. The before one.

And my reference in that context was more to suggest, if someone many people looked up to as a paragon did not do the right thing, then we ought not so casually throw them under the bus as evil and move on without thinkiong about how we ourselves would make decisions in a case like this.

That before view on Joe Paterno has changed and I get it, and I agree with what you say.



July 2nd, 2012 at 1:38 AM ^

is a step away from rational conversation, because it is a perjorative term and hence an expression of bias. It may be a useful shorthand in the absence of time for deliberation, but it belongs in the same category as "terrorist (as opposed to "insurgent," "freedom-fighter," "partisan" or "member of the resistance")" or "us and them."

My favorite movie quote regarding a breakdown in ethical behavior is from Thirteen Days, featuring Kevin Costner attempting yet another implausible regional accent in yet another JFK-related movie, in which the president muses on a meeting with his very militaristically gung-ho JCS with the following:

There has to be something morally wrong about abandoning your own better judgement.

It isn't so much good and evil as it is a question of how we respond to strong or irresistable pressure to renounce our own better judgement. I don't think "indifference of good men" is the problem; it is that sometimes doing the right thing seems like a costly, extravagant luxury. Doing the right thing comes at a price.

I think it is unlikely that whoever is in the position to investigate this scandal will ever have the authority or resources to do a full investigation. (The range of unanswered questions includes the mysterious 2005 disappearance of Ray Gricar, the prosecutor with the original jurisdiction in the Sandusky case. If this is indeed related, then suspicion could extend outside PSU to local government and law enforcement. Rooting all this out would be a titanic task that would hinder PSU operation indefinitely.) Our knowledge of what happened will probably always be incomplete and we may never know whether the culture that enabled the scandal has been rooted out. (Nation-building from outside is rarely successful.) The plausible actions, even up to the prosecution of Spanier, may still end up being merely symbolic while leaving the culture largely intact. We may never know whether doing the right thing there is merely inconvenient or whether it is an unaffordable luxury for the average person. We may decide we can't afford the expense of finding out.

The doctor who did MLK's post-mortem said he had the heart of a 65-year-old man when he died; MLK was 38 at the time. He paid a heavy toll, spiritually and healthwise, for doing the right thing. Heroic people will pay the price to do the right thing regardless.

The rest of us will hold back when it means,for instance, relinquishing or diluting our power to protect and take care of our own children; one friend of mine said "your idealism goes when you have your first child." Or as Gandhi said, "The drowning are in no condition to help others."

We can only hope we find our way to situations where we aren't consistently asked to abandon our better judgement; at best, we can only afford to stand up to a few battles and to hope they end up being worth winning. Among the people whose lives are touched by the Sandusky scandal are those who served under Spanier et alia who wanted, like any of us does, to be good but, for one reason or another, couldn't afford to avoid some share in the guilt when they realized the complicity stretched all about them.


June 30th, 2012 at 3:01 AM ^

Since you mention you are a representative of a religious organization, it would be impossible for me to respond to this without breaking the "no religion" rule on this blog. All I can say is, if you ever want to contact me I can easily articulate the extreme error in your logic on this one...and it will be based on a very calm non-radical interpretation of the bible and it's teachings.


July 1st, 2012 at 1:40 PM ^

indicates that you're making a whole lot of assumptions about the OP that may or may not be true, but that are exactly that: assumptions. OP mentioned his work in the ministry because he was making a point about working in a profession that has a Duty To Report, not because he was trying to rub his beliefs or the reasons for them in your face. (Also, he has a line about being a minister in his commenting tag-line, so it's not like it's a secret). Nowhere in what he wrote does he make any comments about interpretation of the Bible, radical or otherwise. Don't be knee-jerk about religion. All that can lead to is flaming.


June 30th, 2012 at 4:07 AM ^

In my personal opinion, your logic is extremely faulty.  You believe that somehow the people involved convinced themselves that it was not that bad and nothing happened or was happening.  The evidence and, admittedly, circumstancial evidence leaves the impression with most that the people involved knew or suspected what was going on and ignored because they were protecting the football program.  This is what has caused the anger on this board, the people invovled had a choice to protect the kids or protect a football program/university and they chose football.  The email itself sends that message, although it is not definitive in any way.

In addition, this was not a one off report.  The 2001 incident was the second time they dealt with a report of this nature.  Why he was not charged in 1998 is beyond anyone, but given his sudden retirement the next year at a fairly young age for a football coach, it screams cover up to almost everyone who you are complaining about.  (I would note the super conspiracy theorist would also cite the strange dissapearance of the prosecutor of that case in the 2000s.  They also note the extreme rise of McQueary and unusual path he took from grad assistant)

Either way, these guys had a job to do and it was to report this to the authorities.  It was that simple.  No matter how murkey the story may have been, the law was clear.  They went on to cover this up and lie to the courts over the last year.  The same courts that were trying to convict Sandusky.  In other words, they had a chance to do the right thing in the last year to convict the guy when the story became a lot less murkey and they chose to lie.  They may not be evil, but they certainly do deserve every bit of anger they are getting on this board.  If for no other reason than that anger directed their way is still nothing compared to what the kids went through that they chose not to protect. 

There are some actions you can never defend, ever.  Sandusky's actions and the actions of those that helped protect him are on the very top of that list.



June 30th, 2012 at 10:37 AM ^

This is typical of many of the counter-arguments here, and misses the point. I have clearly stated in the OP that the actions of the admins were wrong and that they are both morally and legally responsible for it. To construe my post as a defense of their actions is to miss the point.

My point is that the motives are not so easily written off, and that is relevant to those of us with what we consider to be good motives. Humans have a long history of using good motives to cover for poor actions, and we need to be on guard to make sure we do not fall into the same trap.


June 30th, 2012 at 12:41 PM ^

I see where you're going in terms of the humanism you are assigning to the administrators via your construction of the dilemmas they faced within their decision making process. That said, I think you miss the concept that these individuals acted in a manner consistent with self-interest as opposed to acting in manner consistent with their responsibilities to the mandate of the university.

Indeed, what they sought to protect, via their misguided reasoning, they have actually made a mockery. Good motives? Good motives would have suspended Sandusky with pay at the first indication of concern pending an investigation (which, given what we know now, would likely not have exhonerated him). Penn State, like every major academic institution has and had policy related to employee conduct. It seems that this was conveniently ignored by the administrators in seeking to maintain their status, protect the program and maintain the reputation of the school.

The administrators are certainly human in their failings; but let's not sugar coat it, the absolutely failed here and their motives were certainly not good.

One Inch Woody…

June 30th, 2012 at 1:09 PM ^

Everything you said is right except that they were covering up this for the football program.

Please, please realize that football in the long run is something inconsequential. They were covering this up because they did not want Pennsylvannia State University to face legal action and end up as a crater in State Park, which it probably will be soon. 


June 30th, 2012 at 6:16 PM ^

I did at one point say football/university. I agree that the larger university was certainly a concern too. But when you are taking your cues from the football coach, it is hard to argue the football program was not the original thing being protected. In fact, had the President done the right thing in 1998 or 2001 the university would not have needed any protection. Only the football program. It is the apparent cover up that will lead to far greater damage to the university as a whole. Thus I do think it is more than fair to say that in 2001 they chose football over protecting the kids.


July 2nd, 2012 at 2:55 PM ^

What he's saying is actually incredibly insightful. He's saying our rush to judge their decisions as black and white is ignorant to the complex issues they faced. He accuses them of allowing evil. There are not many greater accusations that can be made. What king is saying is that we will be in danger of making the same reprehensible compromises if we do not take a more realistic approach to their reprehensible actions, the competing conflicts that caused them, and the likelihood that we could be capable of such evil in the face of similar conflicts if we do not remain aware of it.
It is the best point I've heard on the subject, and in no way justifies anyone. It actually does the opposite, by warning the rest of us of failing into such a tempting, yet awful trap.


June 30th, 2012 at 8:05 AM ^

It seems to me that, on an individual basis, plenty of people at Penn State, knew that what they were potentially enabling was very wrong. Indeed, the e-mails that were mentioned on Anderson Cooper 360 last night more or less say as much. You get the feeling that they were uncomfortable - to varying extents - on a personal level. Still, it was allowed to continue. 

They didn't want the headache of outing Sandusky, nor did they want to deal with the years of damage control from victims (as well as other people and entities), and the more this was passed along and the more people did nothing, the less personal responsibility became part of the decision-making process - that's pretty much diffusion of responsibility, or "the bystander effect". Yeah, it's a terrible thing, but surely someone among the hundreds with either direct or administrative involvement in the program will do the right thing, yes? Apparently not. 

One of the frightening things about this , in retrospect, from a purely organizational standpoint, is how Penn State was seeing just how beholden that program felt to one man - Joe Paterno. Those who worked  directly with him and his assistants were all from the culture of PSU football, so you had a very cohesive group, all with similar values and desires. Paterno even picked Curley for the AD job,  I think - how many employees pick their managers? That's not objective leadership, and that's another danger that unfolded in all this. Worse, when people in the group started bringing up these wrongs, there's no way to deal with them effectively, and no one feels like it is their responsibility to deal with them effectively. Therefore, no one does. Indeed, under such stressors, such groups circle their wagons more than anything else.

All that being said, their are also plenty of groups and organizations that foster feelings of empowerment and individuation  (indeed, the reason phenomena like these are studied is so they can possibly be avoided), and in such groups, the likelihood of someone such as Sandusky not getting to commit these acts for as long as he did would be substantially less (but not zero, of course). Penn State did not have such a culture. 



June 30th, 2012 at 7:05 AM ^

I think you could have made it shorter by stating:

Good people sometimes make poor decisions and pray that you are never put to the test.

Isn't that essentially what you are saying? Or is it more an assumption that ALL people are capable of evil acts (to quote from The Shadow, "Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men?")? Ultimately, some of this gets down to fundamental beliefs about good and evil that may not be appropriate for discussing in this board. If one is Christian, for example, are the weeds scattered among the wheat or can the wheat turn into weeds? Avoiding religion (which really isn't possible), the philosophical idea would be that of freewill.

In any event, all people (right or wrong) will justify their actions. I don't believe most people posting are demonizing, I think they are exhibiting righteous indignation at those who would wash their hands from their guilt.


June 30th, 2012 at 8:12 AM ^

The parable of tares and wheat isn't directly about good and evil,  so doesn't really inform us on this issue, but yes most Christians believe everyone is not only capable of evil acts, but everyone engages in evil acts, to a greater of lesser extent.


June 30th, 2012 at 9:43 AM ^

But that wasn't the point I was making and ultimately this is not a place to discuss philosophy or religion.

The OP wants to make sure we don't think we are incapable of poor judgement or actions. Although this is true to some extent, we are not all capable of the same level poor judgement or actions (or inactions). For example, most of us are not all of a sudden going to take up murder or rape as a hobby. So some are greater demons and some are lesser demons.

I don't think anyone is putting the PSU administration on the same level as Sandusky. There is no demonization to that extent. However, their actions and inactions are important to "demonize" as it serves as a powerful lesson. Heinous crimes, or even their assertion, demand intervention. Those in charge allegedly neglected their duty or were ill-prepared for the situation.


July 2nd, 2012 at 3:32 PM ^

without our conflicts being on the same scale?
If I say this, I know I am going to be accused of calling them equitable to raping little boys, which I am not, but King makes a valid point about personal accountability of our own choices and how we can never learn from history if we forget it.
The man who cheats on his wife brings her down into a personal hell. Perhaps he was just enjoying a riveting friendly relationship with a co-worker that got too far. Perhaps he felt disrespected at home.
The man who divorces his wife may think they've grown apart. Does this lessen the private hell of the children whose lives and security have been torn apart? Though in no way equitable to raping boys, their lives will probably never be entirely the same from the tragedy it caused.
Are these men free from accountability for the pain, even personal hells, they caused? In no way, but they probably rationalized those decisions that way. From their perspectives, thei decisions were much more complex than the people's lives they've destroyed.
And now we're talking about a great subset of America. So yes, I think there is a danger to demonizing the Penn St administrators IF it means lessening our own spotlight into our lives. Outsiders will always call them evil, and in that moment, they're right. But seemingly small compromises are the real evil when one is in the situation (I presume), and many make such choices to think of themselves instead of others in gradually increasing compromises. King is right on the money in saying we need to all be aware and reject such selfish compromises, as others have strongly noted, as well.
It would be a shame if we missed seeing the consequences of the compromises we will be presented with.
And I agree there are right decisions. But what makes the important is that they are hard.
This is a good reminder to me that when my own interests are on the line I think of others first and not compromise my character.

Well thought out piece.


June 30th, 2012 at 7:35 AM ^

Peoples' judgments of these individuals are unaffected by our opinions of "goodness" and "evil." The way I know that is that the thread you linked (which currently has 113 posts) does not mention evil one time. None. And the reason is that the rightness or wrongness of their actions do not depend on their intent. The ACTIONS are wrong, independent of the intention.

These were powerful men with a legal and moral obligation to report this information to the authorities. They knew that. They may not have had 'evil' intentions, but does that matter?

I do not deny that the choice was a complex one. But can you deny that at the end of the day, these men made inarguably the wrong choice? And don't misunderstand; I'm not saying it was the wrong decision because Sandusky turned out to be a monster. It was the wrong choice because these men were told "Jerry Sandusky is using a kid's charitable organization to molest children in showers," and they decided NOT TO TELL ANYONE.


June 30th, 2012 at 1:14 PM ^

And worst of all, they did what they did not because of any type of "we'll get him help!" mentality, but to protect their football program. In no moral code should "football>rape" be tolerated with benefits of the doubt or any kind of rationalization that inures to the benefit of those that cover it up. It makes them as responsible for every kid that came after they knew about him. And banning him from bringing kids on campus while knowing full well he had access to kids is akin to saying "Just don't do it around us." 


June 30th, 2012 at 8:03 AM ^

The facts speak for themselves. Instead of concerning ourselves with archaic and obscure notions of good and evil, let's stick with reality and focus on demonstrable notions of good and bad. What happened was bad for those kids; the cover up was good for the program (until now). There is a need to enforce accountability and set an example for the rest of society, so that future decision-makers know where they stand -- and what they stand to lose. If their asses aren't on the line for these tragedies, then the risk of future occurrences would be expected to increase.


June 30th, 2012 at 10:58 AM ^

Please consider re-examining my post to note that I repeatedly condemn their actions and assert that they should almost certainly be prosecuted for them.

Your final statement is emblematic of the problem--they were not explicitly told that Sandusky was using his organization to prey upon young people. They were told a story that wound up being something like, "McQueary saw Jerry messing around with some kid in the shower," or, "Mike things Jerry was touching a kid in the wrong way," or something. The monstrous scale of what was going on hadn't occurred to them.

And they should have taken necessary steps to deal with the situation, and failed.

And the point is that we, in our choices, don't often get things presented in an easy-to-act way. Real life doesn't give us the whole story. Or it gives us context that we use to excuse our inaction. And a lesson here that is being missed is that even without all the information, even with a reasonable doubt (remember, this is not a jury), action should still be taken. I don't believe these admins went to bed believing that Jerry was preying on boys--I believe they weren't sure, didn't know, couldn't tell, and talked themselves into believing that they had done enough. And that their squishiness was morally inexcusable.


June 30th, 2012 at 2:05 PM ^

they were not explicitly told that Sandusky was using his organization to prey upon young people. They were told a story that wound up being something like, "McQueary saw Jerry messing around with some kid in the shower," or, "Mike things Jerry was touching a kid in the wrong way," or something. The monstrous scale of what was going on hadn't occurred to them.

Even if we assume the MOST favorable possible interpretation, they were told that Sandusky was doing something inappropriate with children in a shower. They thought it was serious enough to ban Sandusky from bringing children to PSU and to decide to inform the police and the Second Mile folks -- a decision they would later change.

A absolutely appreciate your position, and I agree with your reading of their actions. These were not inherently evil men who schemed to ensure that more children would be harmed. But that is the whole point of why we NEED to focus on their actions. We cannot but condemn their actions, lest we pass the message to ANYONE in a similar situation that these actions were excusable. Somewhere in this country right now is an authority figure facing a similar debate, and perhaps this debate will cause him to make the right choice.

We have all known good people who have done terrible things. But regardless of the impact on the sinner, the sins must be called to light, and held up to the people as a means to say "this will not be tolerated."


June 30th, 2012 at 2:33 PM ^

I completely agree with your statement. The actions need to be judged for what they were. My purpose is explicitly not to excuse their actions, but to demonstrate that one may commit such prosecutable and morally bankrupt actions without manifestly nefarious motives.

What you have just posted I have no argument with whatsoever.


June 30th, 2012 at 8:39 AM ^

A lot of the arguments in this thread seem to miss that. The point I think the OP is making is that personal and institutional issues lead to most people making bad decisions, not just the guys with the top hats and curly mustaches. While PSU has its particular unique context that surely played a role in the failure to seriously address Sandusky's crimes, it is a mistake to draw the conclusion that the administrative people involved are uniquely evil. Decisions to take what seems to be the easier path rather than the path of righteousness are made all the time, by, I guess, probably all of us. The error is obviously more modest when the consequences are minor, or the perceived magnitude of the evil is small: eating more of that tasty but diet-busting dessert than we know we should, ditching an annoying drinking companion at the bar. Our brains are very, very good at justifying our choices: "I'll exercise for 5 minutes longer tomorrow"; "the guy's a boring jerk, he can take a taxi home". But it's a slippery slope, especially when there's uncertainty about what really did or will happen, or when it's not a major focus of our lives. Perhaps that slice of cake is the proverbial feather on the camel's back, and I become diabetic that night. Perhaps our companion's behavior is due to depression, and we all misread his critical need for our attention.

The lesson here for me is the importance of vigilance - both of the actions of those around me and for my own decision-making. Punish those PSU guys, they deserve it. But draw a lesson from their failure to report - from their actions to do far too little.



coastal blue

June 30th, 2012 at 3:36 PM ^

yes, but in explaining why, he makes it sound as if it could have happened to anyone in any situation and, as seems to be the case often when people try and justify the actions of the men involved in this case, ends up treating child rape like just another mistake. 


July 1st, 2012 at 1:59 PM ^

If I've understood him correctly, that's exactly the point the OP is trying to make. This situation could happen to any of us at any time: we have the opportunity to do the right thing, even though it might be unpleasant to do. OP's point is that the administrators at PSU did the wrong thing, and they should face the consequences of that. But while we vilify them, let's take a moment to reflect on ourselves, and ask ourselves whether we always do the right thing. Let's use their obviously wrong choices to motivate us to make the right choices. It's fine to be outraged about how Curley & co behaved. While we're busy being outraged, let's take a moment to look in the mirror and promise ourselves that we really would never make the mistakes that they made. Because as reprehensable as their actions (or inactions) were, those actions were also surprisingly easy to take.

coastal blue

June 30th, 2012 at 8:21 AM ^

I think Brian mentioned this when he wrote about it after it happened: The hierarchy at Penn State gambled that no one would find out about what was going on with Sandusky and  they lost. 

I believe it was a case of easy vs. difficult. The easy move, if you were Paterno, Curley, Spanier, etc. was to do nothing. Pretend you never heard anything, hope it goes away, move on. After all, it was just some kid you don't know and is it really worth giving the university all that bad publicity - and God forbid, the football team - over some Second Mile child? Who wants the cloud of a child rape scandal involving a university legend hanging over a football season? Sounds unpleasant to me. 

The difficult move would have resulted in a media frenzy that was about 1/10 of what occurred anyway 10+ years later. And instead of being lambasted as evil, the men involved would have been looked at as real leaders and heroes, instead of being dead or on their way to court. 

Everything that is coming to those involved is well-deserved.


June 30th, 2012 at 8:34 AM ^

"When evil people are abetted it is usually not by third parties who want them to continue; it is usually by good people who never make a conscious choice to do wrong."

Let's Go Blue" touched on this ^ part of your argument already, but for me, this is where you go wrong.  You apparently do consider Sandusky evil.

But Sandusky seems to have justified his actions as being good, and that he was "helping" these boys in some way, so in his mind, he never made a conscious choice to do wrong either.  We can always find ways to justify evil actions; does that justification make the actions (or us) less evil?  Haven't the large-scale actions throughout history that most people consider the most evil been perpretated by people who have justified their actions as being "good," often for the "greater good"?

I do think you are right, though, to point out that while Sandusky is far different from the rest of us, but if any of us were in the PSU administrators shoes, there is at least a small possibility that we could have acted in a similar way. 



June 30th, 2012 at 8:39 AM ^

Let me take a slightly different approach from some of the other posts:

It may very well be that the people implicated by these emails are otherwise good people. It's just that they don't have enough courage. Let's be honest, it takes some serious guts to be a whistleblower. Why do you think whistleblowers are such a rare breed?

In some situations, though, being courageous is the ONLY right thing to do. And these admins were guilty, not because they're some heinous, sociopathic individuals, but because they they couldn't compell themselves to act. And that is sufficient to make them morally culpable to an extreme degree. 

The takeaway, then, is this: We all think we'd be the whistleblower. But evidence shows over and over again, in a variety of situations, that very few of us actually would be. The OP articulates well some of the rationalizations might be. But I doubt that most of us would have the guts to bring attention to it, and then follow up. McQueary was caught halfway in between indecision and action; he brought it to the administration, but when they sat on it, he didn't escalate it further. I wonder how many of us would do the same?

That same "it can't happen to me" feeling of moral superiority is closely related to the "it can't happen here" feeling of invincibility, which is exactly the rationalization that otherwise good people use to do nothing. 

It CAN happen to me. 


June 30th, 2012 at 9:25 AM ^

1) No one is saying it can't happen here. People are saying that it DID happen there.

2) Whistleblowers are people who report wrongdoing from above them.  This was a superior covering up the actions of a subordinate. The former requires that one go beyond his responsibilities. The latter only requires that he fulfill his responsibilities.

CO Blue

June 30th, 2012 at 10:04 AM ^

No, no one is saying that it can't happen here. In fact, before the OP, no one was even discussing the matter as it pertains to each of us individually and collectively at all- which I believe was the intent of the OP.

What I took from the post was the value in taking a step back, recognizing my own potential for making a similar mistake to those at PSU, and figuring out how to prevent that from happening in my own life and work place.

There is a lesson to be learned from this ugly situation, and if I get too caught up in flaming with righteous indignation it could very well be missed.

This is definitely one of the best OT posts (the original post, that is) I have read on this blog.