We know how to feel about serial child rapist Gerry Sandusky. Horror at his crimes. Heartbreak for the victims. Relief that he was convicted at trial and is finally behind bars.
A bit more difficult is what to make of Joe Paterno and the rest of the senior university officials, who enabled Sandusky to prey on so many children for so long. Then came the comprehensive report of former FBI Director/Federal Judge Louis Freeh, issued late last week. Now there can be no doubt that Paterno and the others knew about Sandusky going back many years. The Freeh report also makes clear that Paterno and the others cared far more about protecting their beloved (and lucrative) football program than about the welfare of innocent children inexcusably violated by one of their own.
As Judge Freeh noted in his report: “The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims. . . . [Paterno and others] failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.”
Penn State revered its football program and its longtime father-figure, too. (“Pater” is Latin for father.) With this report, he now faces the opprobrium he well deserves. With all that we now know, it is easy and justified to loathe Paterno for his reckless failure to intervene and prevent countless assaults. It just seems shallow and callous anymore to fret over Paterno’s legacy as a football figure. He was a knowing co-conspirator in perhaps the worst serial pedophile scandal ever.
Most perplexing is what to make of everyone else who surely must have known, must have had some idea of what Sandusky was doing? What about the janitors who witnessed what they saw going on in the athletic center’s showers? What about the assistant coaches? The players? What about Mike McCreary, who was apparently an eyewitness to child rape, or McCreary’s father who learned what his son had seen and heard? There had to have been many, many individuals who knew something, even if not the entire story.
How could all those people remain silent? Why didn’t they do something? Why didn’t they say something? Hannah Arendt called this the “banality of evil” when trying to make sense of how millions of Germans could allow Eichmann and the Final Solution to take place right in front of their faces. Is that what was going on at Penn State?
The Surgeon General, whose office in 1964 first announced the adverse health effects associated with smoking, has just issued a new report, “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults.” The findings are unequivocal and frightening: Smoking remains the number one cause of preventable disease and death in this country. And it all starts, overwhelmingly, in the teen years. Here is a link to the full report. http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/preventing-youth-tobacco-use/index.html.
The report, easily the size of three volumes of the now defunct Encyclopedia Britannica, is exhaustively detailed in its analysis. Among its key findings:
• Smoking is an epidemic among young people. Nearly one in four high school seniors is a smoker.
• Every single day, nearly 4,000 young people (under age 18) smoke their first cigarette. Of those, about 1,000 become daily smokers. For every three young smokers, only one will quit (eventually) and one will die from a smoking-related disease.
• Scientific evidence linking cigarette smoking and adverse health effects is stronger than ever. Smoking restricts lung growth in young people. It causes heart disease and lung cancer. An estimated 443,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related causes, adding about $100 billion to our national health care tab.
Most people have heard something of the McDonald’s coffee case. That is the one about the woman who spilled hot coffee on herself after leaving a fast-food drive-thru and then filed a frivolous lawsuit so she could cash in and make millions from our jackpot jury system, right?
Susan Saladoff’s important film documentary, “Hot Coffee,” shows how powerful corporate interests, aided by the news media, have distorted the story of this case to wage a PR war against the rights of individuals who seek redress in the courts. By making the McDonald’s coffee cup case the poster child for “tort reform,” corporate lobbyists like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and political consultants such as Karl Rove have steered millions of dollars to efforts to sway public opinion against those who have been injured and who rely on the courts to hold wrongdoers accountable.