The Penn State Sex Scandal: We Can't Rely on Hindsight

Joe ChaconContributor IIIFebruary 16, 2017

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 23: Head coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks at the scoreboard while leaving the field, for reported flu like symptoms, in the beginning of the third quarter on September 23, 2006 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State won the game 28-6.  (Photo By Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Happy Valley, what an ironic nickname that has turned out to be.

By now you have read countless articles pertaining to the disgusting acts that have allegedly taken place on the Penn State campus over the past couple of decades. You have had time to digest the fact that your beloved Joe Paterno made a life-changing mistake that not only puts a grand canyon-sized hole in his reputation, but also immediately takes the credibility away from Penn State University and what it stood for.

Last week, if you were to type "Penn State" in a Google search, the system would auto-fill "football" for you. Do the same search today and the auto-fill word is "sex scandal."

There is a fundamental difference in the arguments going on between JoePa supporters and the rest of society. Paterno fans are upset that Joe is taking the fall for the alleged actions of Jerry Sandusky, and the inaction of Mike McQueary. The fans are embarrassed that this has happened at their beloved school. Most of all, these fans are saddened that the iconic image of Joe Paterno has been ruined forever.

Society, specifically those removed from any Penn State bias, are outraged that anybody could support Paterno in this situation. Society is stating that if they were in Paterno's shoes, they would have gone above and beyond what was least expected of them and reported the alleged sexual abuse to police. They can't understand how one would be able to continue on with life as usual, knowing what had transpired on his campus.

The thought that Paterno didn't see these allegations through until some sort of charges were filed is beyond comprehension. In a situation like this, one needs to be objective. What needs to be understood is a head coach who had knowledge of an alleged sex crime against a child on his campus, did the absolute minimum to put an end to the problem.

Don't mistake the actions of student protesters with those of true Penn State fans.
Don't mistake the actions of student protesters with those of true Penn State fans.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Sandusky is going to get his time, and although any amount of time he gets in federal prison will not equate to the lives he has ruined, it's a start to the healing progress of the victims.

McQueary is the quintessential example of one of the things terribly wrong with our society. He allegedly witnessed what had happened, but because he was a graduate assistant at the time, he was too timid to go any further than telling Joe Paterno about the incident.

There were no laws broken by Joe Paterno or Mike McQueary. Pennsylvania is not one of the 40 states that require witnesses of child abuse to report their findings to local police. The JoePa supporters know this, and are irate that he was fired for not doing anything illegal. Again, when this is looked at objectively, one would hope that common sense in firing somebody for not taking further action in a horrific situation like this would trump the fear of tarnishing somebody's legacy.

The students of Penn State should not be looked at as an example of how most loyal Penn State fans feel. I would like to think that many of the people who classify themselves as part of the Penn State family (former alums, faculty, etc.) cringed when they saw the mob of 20-year-old students flipping a news van and chanting the name of Joe Paterno. They saw news cameras, they are attention-needy and they acted upon their inhibitions. Bring a crew of media for ANY reason and the chances of college students protesting skyrockets.

To JoePa supporters, this is not Joe's fault and he is not the fall guy. The punishment for the actual man who allegedly committed these crimes will be dealt with, but one needs to realize that investigations take time. In fact, of all the figures involved, I would expect Paterno to be the least important piece of this scandal. Chances are this was an isolated incident and he did not know of any other incidents.

Never forget the true face of this scandal, Jerry Sandusky.
Never forget the true face of this scandal, Jerry Sandusky.

In the near future, all the details will be revealed. I'm not referring to the details of what Sandusky allegedly did to the children, just the term "sexual abuse" is enough for us to understand what happened. I want to know how Joe Paterno was notified of the incident. What did McQueary say to Paterno? How did he describe the incident?

Let's keep in mind that Paterno was not a spry 40-year-old coach when he was informed of this. He was in his 70s, and may have not grasped what McQueary was telling him. What if McQueary went to Paterno and said said he "thinks" he saw Sandusky with another naked person who "may" have been a boy? Was Paterno supposed to call the police and report something that may or may not have happened and dampen the reputation of Jerry Sandusky? Keep in mind that Sandusky had been the recipient of many awards for his work with children.

Well, to answer simply: yes. When it comes to children, especially any form of abuse, you err on the side of the child and report it.

We are all living in hindsight at this moment. It is so easy to say we would have done something at a certain time. At this point in my life, the father of two girls under seven years old, I can say if I were in McQueary's shoes I would have not only reported the incident to police, I would have also jumped in and stopped the act that I was witnessing. That is how I feel today. I have the knowledge, strength and emotional connection to step in and do something. I can't say for certain I would have done the same thing 10 years ago.

Our life experiences shape who we are. We can't look at this incident and say with certainty that we would have responded a certain way. We can all agree that Sandusky is a sick individual who deserves to spend the rest of his life in jail if in fact he sexually abused these eight victims (as of this writing). We can all agree that McQueary should have notified police of the incident he witnessed instead of looking out for his own career. And finally, we can all agree that Joe Paterno should have made more of an effort to make sure this alleged sexual assault of a child was brought to a conclusion in some capacity.