Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky is charged with abusing eight different boys over a 15-year period, and some of the abuse allegedly occurred in Penn State football facilities.
In fact, according to the charges, one incident involving a ten-year-old boy in a shower was actually witnessed by a grad assistant in 2002, and it was reported to storied head coach Joe Paterno, a man who throughout his career has been viewed as someone who “did things the right way.”
Paterno reported what the grad assistant told him to the school's athletic director, but then let the matter drop. Sandusky by then was retired from Penn State, but he still had full access to the university's football facilities. The only action the school took was to prohibit him from bringing kids from his foundation, which helps at-risk kids, onto the Penn State campus.
This story undoubtedly hits close to home for residents of Queens and Brooklyn. It was just earlier this year that former Christ the King basketball coach Bob Oliva pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a teenage boy. The suit alleged that Oliva had sexual contact with the boy over 100 times over a four-year period. Oliva maintains his innocence, but the plea deal spared him from going to prison.
While not of the stature of Paterno, Oliva was one of the most celebrated figures in New York City basketball history, and top players from all over the city wanted to play at Christ the King. He is even a member of the Christ the King Hall of Fame.
When the first allegations arose, other disturbing claims were made about Oliva by former players, including that he regularly took players to prostitutes after good games and that he masturbated in front of young boys.
What do these two cases have in common?
If all of the allegations are indeed true, and that this type of abuse, in both instances, was long-term and so utterly systemic, then someone at some level had to know what was happening, and those people chose to look the other way.
If that is the case, the abuse could have been dealt with from the start, and many more kids could have been spared from enduring sexual abuse at the hands of adults they trusted, ultimately scarring them for life. Instead, they put personal reputation and athletic success over the welfare of the most vulnerable of our society.
We can fully understand that confronting a person, accusing them of abusing children and then making sure that the abuser will not have contact with children within the halls of your educational institution would not, in any case, be a comfortable or easy-to-solve dilemma. We understand the urge to keep the investigation “in house.”
But as adults, we owe it to our children to not merely inquire if we suspect abusing is occurring, but to take action when we know there is a problem with that adult, even at the expense of the reputation of our educational institution.
In some cases, like that of Joe Paterno, failing to do so might not be against the law, but it is morally reprehensible.