07/16/2012 11:45 am ET | Updated Sep 15, 2012

Penn State Football Is Too Powerful to Challenge

Hypothesis: There is no such thing as a moral issue -- individuals and organizations make decisions based on their power and ability to get away with doing whatever it takes for their own success and preservation.


Joe Paterno, a revered football coach with an "impeccable reputation" was informed about his former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's sexual use of children, including at Penn State football facilities, but used his influence to dissuade university higher-ups from reporting Sandusky to authorities. These University officers included long-time, highly respected Penn State president Graham Spanier*, vice president Gary Schultz, and athletic director Tim Curley. None of the men ever took any steps to identify any victims or potential victims, to talk to Sandusky himself, or to report Sandusky to the authorities.

Former FBI director Louis Freeh's report on the cover-up put it this way:

"The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children Sandusky victimized." He said they "never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky's victims" until after he was arrested in 2011.

As the New York Times noted in this editorial: "Worse than that, the report says, the school's leaders worked diligently to conceal significant facts about the case from the authorities, the board of trustees, the university community and the broader public":

The most senior officials at Penn State had shown a "total and consistent disregard" for the welfare of children, had worked together to actively conceal Mr. Sandusky's assaults, and had done so for one central reason: fear of bad publicity. That publicity, Mr. Freeh said Thursday, would have hurt the nationally ranked football program, Mr. Paterno's reputation as a coach of high principles, the Penn State "brand" and the university's ability to raise money as one of the most respected public institutions in the country.

After the report, the new Penn State President, Rodney Erickson spoke out:

At a news conference, Mr. Erickson did not answer directly when asked if there had been excessive reverence for the football program. "It's been an important part of student life; it's been an important part of alumni life," he said.

Karen B. Peetz, a trustee for two years and the chairwoman of the board since January, was asked if Mr. Paterno should still be venerated on campus.

"The whole topic of Joe Paterno being honored or not being honored is a very sensitive topic," she said.

Of course, the trustees are gun shy -- after the group belatedly fired Paterno, its members were harassed and threatened. Why would they receive more of a break than the victims? When the first Sandusky victim became known, the local community, school authorities, and classmates attacked him:

Mike Gillum, psychologist for the family, told the news source that officials at Central Mountain High School didn't step in and provide guidance to the boy's classmates, who began to blame Joe Paterno's firing on the 17-year-old.

Victim One testified he was forced into multiple sex acts between 2006 and 2008. During that time, Sandusky was also assisting the high school with their varsity football program, the report states.

Gillum told The Patriot News that name-calling and verbal threats at the school, which is located about 30 miles northeast of Pennsylvania State University, became too much for the boy to bear.

In other words, victims and anyone who dared stand up to Penn State's football monolith ruled by Paterno were attacked and eliminated.

In the aftermath of the scandal, Penn State donations soared:

In a year marred with controversy and national notoriety, Penn State University alumni and boosters finally have something to smile about.

In fiscal year 2011-2012, the school earned $208.7 million in donations -- the second-highest annual amount in school history -- according to a release from the Development and Alumni Relations division.

Penn State spokesman David LeTorre said the donations "send a loud and distinct message," in what has been a particularly challenging time for the school.

In other words, the rank and file united behind the University to excuse and support it after the dimensions of the scandal and its extension throughout the system had become apparent -- and nothing in the Freeh report will change this.

Paterno's family -- beneficiaries of a sizable retirement financial settlement the University's trustees arranged for Paterno, which was enhanced after the scandal emerged -- reacted this way to the Freeh report:

"The idea that any sane, responsible adult would knowingly cover up for a child predator is impossible to accept."

In other words, the crimes of the leaders were their defenses -- how could anybody act this way, protecting their image, reputation, and career while letting boys be sexually abused? It's absurd, according to the Paterno family and his defenders.

Former Florida State football coach, Bobby Bowden, who had the second greatest number of collegiate football coaching victories after Paterno, recommended the University take down the prominent statue honoring Paterno. Here was his reasoning:

"You go to a Penn State football game, and there's 100,000 people down there, and they got that statue, and you know doggone well they'll start talking about Sandusky," Bowden said. "If it was me, I wouldn't want to have it brought up every time I walked out on the field."

In other words, leaving the statue up is bad football public relations!

If the hypothesis at the top of this post is true, then there are an infinite number of enablers, supporters, and abettors who worked to allow Sandusky to pursue and abuse children (he was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse last month) and then to protect Penn State and Paterno. For example, after the scandal was revealed, former Pennsylvnia governor Ed Rendell rushed to Paterno's defense. Meanwhile, the current governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, who was Attorney General under Rendell, created a child sexual abuse task force that included an investigation of Sandusky that cleared him in 2009-2010. This was after a number of children's families had reported Sandusky's assaults going as far back as 1998!

In other words, Penn State, its football program, and Paterno are assets too valuable and forces too powerful to challenge -- even now.

*To add to the wonder of the self and organizational protectiveness above all values this case demonstrates, Spanier was a family researcher dedicated to eradicating child abuse!

"You know how he's got that prizefighter's nose?" said Michael Oriard, an associate dean at Oregon State and a close friend. "It's from his father breaking it for him several times."

Spanier earned academic renown with research on family relationships. Oriard said he has seen his friend lose his composure just once, after witnessing one child hurting another. A man like that, then, might be keenly attuned to protecting the powerless, the downtrodden, and Spanier's defenders say he is.