11/10/2011 01:29 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Explaining Penn State to a 4-Year-Old

A conversation this morning with my 4-year-old.

I stepped out of the car for 30 seconds, just long enough for our 4-year-old daughter to hear the beginning of NPR's report from Penn State University, where for five days the horrific details of a child-sex-abuse scandal and cover-up have been brought to light.

Late Wednesday night, the university president and legendary football coach Joe Paterno were removed by the school's Board of Trustees. Students and members of the community took to the streets to protest. Now our 4-year-old was hearing the details. I turned off the radio, and this is what came next:

4-year-old: Daddy?

Me: Yes?

4-year-old: Are they talking about football?

Me: Yes.

4-year-old: Where?

Me: At Penn State.

4-year-old: Is that who we saw play the Hawkeyes in field hockey?

Me: It is.

4-year-old: What's happening?

Me: Where?

4-year-old: What's happening at Penn State?

Me: Well, a lot of people are in trouble. And their football coach can't coach there anymore.

4-year-old: The old one?

Me: Yes.

4-year-old: What did he do? He can't be their coach anymore?

Me: Right.

4-year-old: What did he do?

Thinking ... thinking ... thinking ...

4-year-old: Daddy, what did he do?

Me: Well, he knew someone was doing something really bad, and he didn't do enough to stop it.

4-year-old: What did someone do that was really bad?

Me: Uh, well, um ... steering focus back to Paterno ... The coach knew that someone was doing something bad, so he told someone about it, but he didn't tell enough people about it. He could have made sure the bad person got in trouble, but instead he didn't do anything.

4-year-old: Did he tell someone?

Me: Yes, he told someone.

4-year-old: Why is he in trouble?

Me: Because he could have done more to help. He could have done A LOT more to help, and he didn't. So now he can't coach anymore.

4-year-old: Why?

Me: Because it's our job -- it's everyone's job -- to do the right thing and help people, and when you don't do that, sometimes you get in trouble.

4-year-old: Is Marvin McNutt younger than (Marcus) Coker?

Me: No. Marvin McNutt is older.

4-year-old: Oh... So the old person isn't the coach anymore?

Me: No, not anymore.

4-year-old: Oh.


4-year-old: Why?

Me: Because he didn't help when he should have.

4-year-old: Did anybody else get in trouble?

Me: Yes.

4-year-old: Why?

Me: Why what?

4-year-old: Why did they get in trouble?

Me: For the same reason, honey. They all knew there was someone doing something really bad, and nobody stopped him.

4-year-old: Why did nobody stop him?

Me: I don't know, honey.

Cross-posted from Iowa City Patch.