11/08/2011 03:39 pm ET | Updated Jan 08, 2012

When Men Are Cowards: Sex, Crime and Cover-Up at Penn State College Football

Let's get one thing straight about the unfolding child sex abuse scandal at Penn State, where a former football coach is accused of molesting eight boys over 15 years: it happened because a group of men chose to be cowards. For a sport that thrives on testosterone it is tragically ironic.

Beginning in 1998 when reports of Jerry Sandusky's habit of showering with young boys in the team's locker room first surfaced, one man after another turned a blind eye to what was going on. Two of them, literally.

According to the grand jury report, a graduate assistant-subsequently identified as Mike McQueary, who is now the team's wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, saw Sandusky having anal sex with a boy of about 10 in the team showers and walked away to call his father. I don't know how your fingers dial any number other than 911 in such a situation. Nor do I know how the result of McQueary's conversation with his father could have resulted in anything other than immediately marching into the shower to rescue the boy and reporting the incident to the police. Instead, McQueary said something about a former coach, a boy and a shower to head coach Joe Paterno the next day.

Two years later, a janitor witnessed Sandusky having oral sex with a boy in the shower. He told colleagues and his supervisor but did not intervene to help the boy nor did anyone report the incident for fear of losing their jobs. Couldn't one of them have at least made an anonymous phone call to police?

The response from Penn State officials was equally insufficient (and possibly criminal): they extracted a promise from Sandusky not to shower with young boys after the 1998 incident and banned him from bringing boys onto the main campus after the alleged 2002 rape. They also confiscated his keys to the locker room. And although former Athletic Director Tim Curley reported the incident to The Second Mile, the charity founded by Sandusky to help disadvantaged youth, according to the charitable foundation, Curley told them that an internal investigation into the 2002 incident had found no wrongdoing. (Of course, The Second Mile also claims that they were not fully informed of the allegations against Sandusky, which is sort of believable since it looks like the entire Penn State apparatus was engaged in a cover up.)

Not only did Penn State officials not report Sandusky to any police agency in 2002, but he continued to enjoy university privileges, including an office in the football building, a parking pass, internet account, discounts at the bookstore and access to school facilities. Indeed, Yahoo! Sports reported that Sandusky was seen working out in the Penn State weight room days before his arrest. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that Sandusky continued to run overnight youth football camps at the Penn State campus in Behrend for six years following his boy-ban in Happy Valley. That'll teach him.

According to their grand jury testimony, Paterno, Curley, University President Graham Spanier and former Vice President Gary Schultz, all claim they did not know the extent of Sandusky's transgressions. Apparently naked adult male + naked young boy + shower = "horsing around."

Of course, the unfolding scandal has raised the uncomfortable possibility that one of America's most beloved football coaches, Joe Paterno, perhaps did not do all that he should have to report the alleged abuse. According to prosecutors, he fulfilled his legal obligation by reporting the matter to Curley. Here's a suggestion for the authorities: make it a crime for anyone to fail to report alleged abuse, sexual or otherwise, of a minor. If it's a crime for Occupy Wall Street supporters to sleep in public parks as a form of protest, then it's a crime to withhold credible knowledge of child rape. Duh.

Lost among the justified outrage and shock is the fact that this scandal now paints a portrait of a football program rife with criminal behavior spanning more than two decades.

Let's not forget that from 2002-2008, Penn State football players led the nation in player arrests with 46 (accounting for 163 criminal charges). Not all of them were found guilty and none of them were for crimes as serious as those with which Sandusky is charged, but it is still more troublesome than tattoos and lucrative summer jobs. Or getting your parents a rent-free house.

Oddly enough, criminal activity is not a violation of the NCAA rules. In other words, a student-athlete can steal a car, he just can't accept one as a gift. Nor does the NCAA hold coaches and university officials accountable when athletes embark on a crime spree. Actually, the last athletic director to serve with such distinction -- Miami's Paul Dee, who presided over the largest Pell Grant scandal in U.S. history -- was hired by the NCAA to work on its infractions committee.

Perhaps if some of the outrage now being directed at Penn State and the individuals involved in what looks like a cover-up of the worst kind had been in evidence sooner, the lives of who-knows-how-many boys may have been forever changed.