Like other members of the Democratic Machine, I spent the last few weeks digging up various women to claim they were harassed by Herman Cain, a fringe candidate for President, who by process of elimination, is now the anti-Romney, aka frontrunner. Um. . .no.
But seriously, I have been struck by the recent scandal at Penn State where it appears Joe Paterno's former protege (who retired under strange circumstances in 1998), Jerry Sandusky, has been raping young boys for years. In fact, in 2002, a graduate assistant witnessed Sandusky raping a 10 year old boy (the boy and Sandusky fled), and he told Paterno what happened immediately. Paterno, in turn, informed the Athletic Director at Penn State, who, in turn, did absolutely nothing. Unfortunately for the Athletic Director, he was required by law to report the whole thing to the police. Its not clear if Paterno and his graduate assistant were as well. Oh, and for those of you who don't know, Joe Paterno is the legendary head football coach at Penn State, and actually has tenure. In the past, he has been held up as a paragon of moral behavior in collegiate athletics.
Now, there are more than a few people who condemn Joe Paterno for failing to do anything but inform his "boss" (given that Paterno has tenure, the athletic director can't actually fire Paterno, so he's really more of Paterno's department head). And certainly, if the allegations are true (and they probably are), Paterno doesn't look good.
But, many of the commentators have missed the opportunity to point out something key - Paterno, and most of the rest of the Penn State Athletic Department were acting completely and totally out of their depth. Penn State, of course, is a university, and the personnel deal with young adults. Pedophilia is simply out of their range of experience.
When faced with this situation, all of them panicked, and tried to pass the buck (or, in the case of the Athletic Director, apparently, bury the information). This reaction, as we've seen with the Catholic Church, and with other organizations is so common that most states have passed laws that require that organizations like Penn State go to the police immediately when confronted with information that a child has been abused.
Ultimately, these laws are a good thing, not because they punish but because they tell people what they're supposed to do. In the heat of battle, or in moments of panic, you need to have a set of procedures to follow precisely because these are moments happen so rarely. We'd like to think that people would act with common sense, and individually they do. But in an organizational context, like Penn State, there is no such thing as common sense, just groupthink. And that's what I think happened with Penn State.
****UPDATE AND EDITOR'S NOTE****
When I wrote the above post, I didn't fully consider that Sandusky retired in 1999 at 55 (a young age for coaches) while being investigated for molesting a young boy. That Sandusky retired to devote more of his time to young boys (seriously), and that Paterno allowed Sandusky to use Penn State's facilities for his "nonprofit" for young boys, while knowing why Sandusky retired, looks really, really bad. Its no wonder that the Board of Trustees felt they had to fire Paterno.
The above post is not meant, in any way, to defend Paterno, but rather to point out that when people are part of an organization, they act really stupidly, and Paterno acted really stupidly in order to "protect the program."