Eugene Robinson: Where was Penn State's leadership in Sandusky scandal?

Nov 08, 2011

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson discusses his latest columns.

Hi, everyone. Welcome to our weekly chat. Sorry to be starting a bit late -- and also sorry, in advance, for having to dash off a few minutes early. So let's get started without further ado.

They certainly did what they felt they were supposed to do: They protected the football program and the revenues it generated. Mike Wise's column hit the nail on the head: If Penn State made this public when it happened, it could have impacted recruiting, revenue, etc. They protected their cash cow, not the children. Joe Paterno should resign for his failure to do what would have truly been the right thing: Reporting the incident to the police, and not just to university officials whose addiction to the money generated by the football program could cloud their judgment.

You're referring to today's column, which was about the Penn State tragedy -- and it is tragic that so many people did so little to protect so many young boys from abuse. Allegedly, I should say. But I agree: How can it be that nobody went to the police? How can it be that nobody even tried to learn the identity of a young boy who was seen being abused? Unbelievable and disgraceful.

Yes he was naive in not pursuing it. But he had the assistant that witnessed the event in the AD's office the very next day. Why aren't you hounding that assistant? As a U Mich grad I guess you won't be happy until Joe resigns. I can understand he didn't want to believe, didn't want to go on hersay and though he did the right thing. It will be a damn shame if this overshadows all the good Joe has done.

I listed the assistant -- reportedly, Mike McCreary -- among those who share responsibility, so consider him hounded. I could not care less how many wins Joe Paterno has. The "right thing" wasn't just to tell his superior and then go back to drawing up plays for the coming Saturday's game. The right thing was to think first of the child -- and other children who might be similarly abused. The right thing was for somebody to go to the police. Yes, this overshadows his legacy. Big time.

Other news reports indicate that there have been rumors in Happy Valley for "years" about Sandusky, yet Penn State did not bar him from campus - until the indictment.

Not only that, but apparently his "prohiubition" against bringing Second Mile kids onto campus (after the 2002 incident) was viewed as unenforceable on the main campus -- and not applied at all on satellite campuses. It's hard for me to believe, given the narrative as laid out in the grand jury report, that there weren't lots of rumors.


I find it horrifying that Penn State found Sandusky's behavior suspect enough to ban him from bringing Second Mile children to the campus, but took no further action. It seems like they simply did not want to get sued in case Sandusky molested any of the Second Mile children, but didn't actually care about the children's welfare at all. It's a sick kind of NIMBY-ism. Even if they believed he was only doing "horseplay" in the shower (and the Grand Jury did not find their claims about this to be credible), they knew they didn't want it going on in their facility, but didn't concern themselves about whether Sandusky would continue to do this elsewhere.

Right. He continued to work with Second Mile children until 2009, when the attorney general's investigation was launched. You can barely find his name on the Second Mile website these days, by the way.

Gene: I am saddened for the victims of the PSU case, but not surprised at the cover-up. My wife and I met at my Big State U. Football and men's/women's basketball came before academics, because they raised funds and profile of the school. The professors were in publish-or-perish mode. Our children chose not to attend to Big State U. The academic buildings had not changed in 25 years, down to chalkboards and desks.. The athletic and training facilities were gorgeous.

Well, I went to Big State U, too. I loved my years in Ann Arbor. I enjoyed going to football games, and I enjoy watching Michigan football now. But this awful episode must compel every university president in the country to do some soul-searching about the importance placed on big-time sports. Clearly, Penn State had lost all perspective. Every president has to ask: What about us?

How was that grad student (the original witness, and now a coach at PSU) able to walk away from the scene? I would think the natural reaction would be to throw a towel over the victim, escort him away, then take a baseball bat to the creep. After he'd been dealt with, a phone call to the police (not Joe Pa, not to Dad) would have been the best course. Your thoughts?

Thank you. I'm not sure about the baseball bat, but if you saw what the witness saw, wouldn't you -- a strapping young jock -- rush over and stop the abuse, using physical force if necessary? And do what you could to comfort the victim? And call the cops immediately? And if the abuser gave you the slightest guff, or tried to flee the scene, punch him out?

Haven't a lot of universities and colleges always preferred to handle on-campus crimes without involving the police? Campus administrations were once notoriously allergic to police and bad publicity. For example, victims of rape, especially if important athletes were implicated, were not encouraged to report the incident. Often campus security would be the first and last stop. I speculate that it's also why Paterno contacted Admin, not the police. That's just how he's used to dealing with all incidents. If this case brings attention to the higher-ed culture of protecting criminals and hushing up victims: good. Right?

Good. Right.

Why do you think men and women tend to respond differently to this issue when confronted with direct knowledge? For instance, I can't imagine a female grad student/staff (especially if a mom) NOT immediately stepping in and trying to intervene, get the child to safety, calling authorities (a therapist/counselor at the very least) vs the male grad student who waited till the next day then went up his 'chain of command' ... This is not an uncommon type of response is it?

I hope this isn't a gender difference, I really do. Come on, you see a child being molested, before your eyes, and you do nothing to intervene? I get furious every time I think about it.

Do you think it is appropriate to describe this as a "sex scandal"? To me, sex is something that happens between two consenting adults. What we have here are allegations that describe the molestation and rape of children, not a "sex scandal." If you agree, would you spread the word?

This is not a sex scandal, and I can't believe anyone would call it that. These area allegations of unspeakable abuse of vulnerable children.

I'd like to see Paterno step down but I wonder whether he will. Question is who's circling the wagons. Interesting that there's no real comment yet from school alumni and if there is comment, we don't hear about it. A sad situation.

There are reports today that Penn State is orchestrating Paterno's departure, perhaps at the end of the season, perhaps sooner. There's a meeting of the board of trustees this week, and I gave them my advice in the column this morning: Clean house and start over.

Thank you. I'm glad to finally hear someone else say that not only Paterno and the Penn St. officials were at fault, but the assistant who actually witness the assault take place as well. Why didn't he call the police right away or try to stop the rape? I would have at least called campus police. People keep saying Paterno did what he was legally required to do. The laws obviously need to be changed so that the proper authorities are notified in a situation like this.

One thing I've learned since this story broke is that reporting requirements for alleged instances of sexual harassment in the workplace, or among students on college campuses, are in many ways more stringent than for alleged child abuse. This should be changed.

Hi Eugene -- Great column today on Penn State, but I hoping you might also weigh in on the latest Herman Cain allegation. If true, wouldn't this normally be a devastating, if not fatal, blow to a campaign? Instead, the whole thing is being met with a rather indifferent yawn in my view. Or perhaps it's too early to know? Or is the lack of a strong response due to the fact that while Cain has been a novelty and fun to watch he's not going to get the nomination anyway and we're just waiting it out until the GOP accepts the reality that it's Romney's?

It's a little early, I think. Let's wait at least until Cain's news conference later this afternoon. I think Sharon Bialek's allegation is being taken pretty seriously -- and given that Cain feels forced to respond, he must think it's serious, too. As for Romney, a lot of conservatives aren't yet resigned to his inevitability. Maybe they will be at some point, but not yet.

IMO, Paterno's self-described actions (to the grand jury) leave no question that he knew about Sandusky's pedophilia at some level. Even if you assume that Paterno thought the grad assistant misunderstood what he saw and believed there was no way it could have happened, his actions make no sense whatsoever. A member of your staff tells you that he saw your colleague of 30+ years molesting a young boy. You take the report seriously enough to tell your boss about it. And then you never mention it again? You never ask your colleague what happened? You never ask your boss what happened? You express no curiosity whatsoever about a report that your long-time colleague is raping children? It strains credulity. Paterno willfully sought to remain ignorant, whether to protect his own skin or his program or his friend. He didn't want to know. Which means that at some level, he DID know.

Obviously, I don't know what he knew or didn't know. But if he was that close to the guy for that long, given the fact that at least one prior incident had been investigated by University Police... How blind can a person be?


Folks, sorry about that, but I have to run. See you on MSNBC in a few minutes, and again next week right here.

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Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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