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?