In younger days, I displayed a “Question Authority” bumper sticker on my vehicle. Though I am no longer much of a bumper sticker kind of guy, the sentiment of being suspect of “authority” hasn’t waned. The current scandal involving Penn State University and child molestation charges against a former assistant football coach, including the 2002 reported rape of a 10-year-old boy, highlights the frequent facade of “authority.”
Former Penn State assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, 67, is facing a slew of charges ranging over a 15-year period. According to the grand jury report, several witnesses as well as individuals should have been suspect of Sandusky. Any one of them could have stepped forward and made a stand. They remained virtually silent, none so deafening as those at Sandusky’s alma mater Penn State.
Penn State’s head football coach Joe Paterno was fired recently because of his tepid response concerning the report from former Penn State quarterback Mike McQueary, who witnessed the rape in a shower at the school. Sorry Mr. Mc- Queary, a strapping 6’ 4”, 200-lb. plus, 28-year man should not be “witnessing” anything but rather taking action. The perpetrator is twice your age, obviously unarmed and presumably you know how to tackle someone – so what was the problem? Perhaps authority? Didn’t want to take out your old coach? With all the character building on the football field, did none of it prepare you to come to the aid of a child being attacked?
So McQueary tells Paterno and then the report of the incident goes up the chain of command at the university with no one apparently doing anything other than reporting it to a higher authority. In a recent statement by Paterno, he said that he “wished that he had done more.” What could he have done? After all, he is only one of the most famous coaches of all time and the winningest college football coach ever. Paterno did tell the athletic director and the university vice president, whose duties included oversight of the campus police. But apparently the police didn’t get the memo.
“Did he make a mistake? Sure, he made a mistake,” former Ohio State football coach John Cooper said concerning Paterno. “And is he paying the price. But I’m not going to forget all the good things he did.” No, Mr. Cooper, it’s the victims who are paying the price. What they have to live with is far more disturbing than having a squeaky clean “reputation” tarnished.
To be sure, nobody is perfect and hindsight may be 20/20. In McQueary’s defense, what he witnessed was bizarre and sickening, not something one expects to stumble upon. A test of character is what is done AFTER a mistake. Even without support from the university, McQueary could have made life very awkward for Sandusky and caused him to be a liability for the children’s charity that he founded and allegedly recruited victims from. The flip side of questioning authority is recognizing the authority each of us has and the willingness to use it, especially if it seems the odds of success are against you.