Yesterday July 14th, the Penn State Board of Trustees announced that they would not be taking down the famous statue of the late Joe Paterno, an icon in Penn State football and one of the winningest coaches in history. This decision, coming in the wake of the exhaustive Freeh report, is a disheartening reminder of how child molestation is enabled by the silence of the greater society.
Most people are very familiar by now with the tale of Jerry Sandusky. Convicted of sexual assault of numerous children, Sandusky was for many years a coach on the Penn State football team. The release last week of the Freeh Report, the result of numerous interviews and investigation by a team led by former FBI Director and federal judge Louis Freeh, offered damning evidence of how Sandusky's activities were at the least protected and arguably enabled by the knowing action/inaction of several leaders of the Penn State program, including head coach the late Joe Paterno.
A visceral and compelling summary of what the Freeh report found is in this article by Lisa Olson on Sportingnews:
The original news of Paterno's involvement had brought his firing by Penn State last fall - an act that triggered a night of student rioting. Paterno defenders - and they were many - even succeeded in electing a new trustee on a campaign pledge to reverse what they viewed as the shoddy treatment of JoePa. And just yesterday, the Trustees announced that one of the most visible symbols of Paterno - a statue of him pointing to the sky #1 as he leads a running group of Penn State football players - would remain standing despite calls from many to tear it down.
I should say at the outset I don't want to broad-brush accuse Penn State fans or supporters. Many - maybe even most, I don't know if an accurate survey has been taken - are as appalled by Sandusky as anyone. They are also appalled by the actions of the others, including Paterno. Many Penn State fans and alumni support removing not only the statue but also other signs of acclaim for Paterno. This is doubtless a heart-wrenching episode and they are rightly concerned about the damage it is doing or may do to a Penn State University, community and alumni that are blameless and innocent.
At the heart of the plague of child molestation is a wall of silence. The crime itself usually occurs behind closed doors, often within families themselves. The perpetrators have power over their victims. If they are the family bread winner, head of household, esteemed community figure - and coach on a winning football team - there is a strong inclination to look the other way. The victim is told to keep their mouths shut and deal with it. Even mothers can join in the cover-up - recall Dottie Sandusky and her claim that the only time she saw anything inappropriate was when a child was himself acting inappropriately with Coach Sandusky.
And that is what happens, across America, on a daily basis.
Penn State missed an opportunity here to stand up and say "enough!" Enough to the culture of silence. Enough to looking the other way. Enough to protecting the powerful over the powerless.
I hope they reconsider their decision. I hope Penn State fans and alumni lead the charge and act as a shining example to the rest of America, and the world, that we are turning a new page. No longer will we remain silent. No longer will we look the other way.