The Penn State Scandal: Why Was It So Hard to Do the Right Thing?

11/22/2011 11:03 am ET | Updated Jan 22, 2012

As children, we're taught to "do the right thing." Somewhere along the line of that instruction, we figure out doing the right thing is usually hard. If it was easy, doing the right thing would be automatic and we wouldn't have to be taught. Perhaps, as adults, we should just come clean with kids and disclose the difficulty up front by changing the adage from "do the right thing" to "do the hard thing." Then, when doing the right thing becomes hard, kids would already be taught what to expect, to push past the difficulty barrier, go ahead and do it anyway.

Over the past several weeks of the Penn State scandal, I have been astonished by the number of people who failed to do the right thing. I'm fairly convinced the reason is because each of them found the right thing hard to do. Revelations continue to come out almost daily, along with firings, resignations and legal actions, but the nucleus of this scandal began years ago when people failed to do the right thing.

  • In 1969, Jerry Sandusky begins coaching at Penn State as a defensive line coordinator.
  • In 1977, he founds a charitable organization called The Second Mile to help struggling kids.
  • In 1998, the mother of a young boy being helped through The Second Mile calls the police to report Sandusky showering naked with her son at Penn State. Police investigate; Sandusky admits the conduct. The mother refuses to allow any further contact. The investigation is closed without criminal charge.
  • In 1999, Sandusky retires from Penn State but continues to have access to school facilities.
  • In 2000, a temporary janitor at Penn State goes into the showers and sees Sandusky involved in a sexual act with a boy. The janitor tells other janitorial staff, one of whom goes into the showers also and sees Sandusky with the boy, whom he estimates to be between 11 and 13. The temporary janitor is told by a supervisor who to report to, but doesn't.
  • March 3, 2002, a Penn State graduate assistant enters the showers and sees Sandusky involved in a sexual act with a boy, whom he estimates to be about 10. The grad assistant immediately tells his father.
  • March 4, 2002, the next morning, the grad assistant tells Joe Paterno, head football coach of Penn State. Paterno tells Tim Curley, Penn State's athletic director.
  • Later in March, 2002, the grad assistant is called into a meeting with Curley and Penn State's Senior Vice President for Finance and Business, Gary Schultz, and told Curley and Schultz will investigate.
  • At the end of March, 2002, Curley tells the grad assistant Sandusky's keys to the Penn State locker room have been taken away and The Second Mile has been informed.
  • In 2008, a mother contacts her son's school to report a sexual assault by Sandusky. The school district immediately bars Sandusky from its premises and informs law enforcement.
  • In early 2009, the Pennsylvania attorney general launches an investigation into Sandusky.
  • In September, 2010, Sandusky resigns from The Second Mile, citing family and personal matters.
  • November 5, 2011, Sandusky is arrested. Prosecutors ask for a 500,000 secured bail with a requirement Sandusky wear a leg monitor. He is released on100,000 unsecured bail without the monitor by Judge Leslie Dutchcot, who reportedly has volunteered and given money in the past to The Second Mile.
  • November 14, 2011, Jack Raykovitz, CEO of The Second Mile, resigns.
By my counting, it took over 10 years, between the 1998 incident and the 2008 incident, for someone to finally do the right thing. The school district, upon hearing of the allegations, barred Sandusky from its district and reported to law enforcement, as mandated by law. In an odd way, that was probably not a difficult decision. The school district had no direct link to Sandusky or to Penn State. What they did have was an ironclad legal responsibility to report. I can imagine the decision to contact authorities was, for them, relatively easy.