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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Just because it's a comic book doesn't mean it is without societal value. 1
This line, from the “Spiderman” movies, may be the most profound quote from a comic book based movie in the history American cinema. The line comes into my mind often in different situations from time to time. The latest sex scandal, involving alleged child molestation by former Penn State University assistant head coach Jerry Sandusky, is yet another example, and a painful example. The reason that the Spiderman line resonates with so many people is simple: power corrupts.


I do not question the fundamental decency of Penn State wide receivers coach Mike McQueary, then a 28 year old graduate assistant. I question the corruption of the power of the Penn State football program. Very few people have an opportunity to be associated with a first rate college football program. Graduate assistants are near the bottom of the totem pole and are happy to be there. Failure at the graduate assistant level could preclude any opportunities in big time college football in the future.

McQueary allegedly spotted Sandusky in the shower with a 10 year old boy, participating in Sandusky’s youth program, at a Penn State facility. Several other alleged victims have since come forward since these allegations came to light. According to reports from multiple media outlets, McQueary called his father upon discovery of the alleged conduct.

His father advised McQueary to leave immediately. McQueary reported what he saw to legendary Penn State Head Football Coach Joe Paterno, who is in his 46th year as head coach and his 62nd year of total coaching tenure at the university. Paterno reported the account to the athletic director.

That’s it. Nobody jumped into the shower and said, “What the hell is going on here?” Nobody jumped in and said “stop”. All that happened was that Sandusky was prohibited from conducting youth programs on the Penn State campus. My initial reaction was “How could this happen?”

Power corrupts. I highly doubt that McQueary, were he a stock clerk in a grocery store, supplementing (what was likely) a meager grad assistant income, would call his father if he saw the store manager engaging in inappropriate behavior with a child in the bathroom in the warehouse section of the store. I have little doubt that he (or any decent person) would step in, break up the incident, and then sell the manager up the river to upper management and, ultimately, law enforcement. It’s a grocery store. There won’t be much, if any, media coverage. There aren’t any big time careers at risk.

However, power corrupts. McQueary had very little power while getting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get his foot in the door in major college football. Had he brought negative publicity to the program, he could have been exiled from coaching. McQueary succumbed to power and protected his career before protecting a child. Power corrupts.

McQueary 2

I do not question the fundamental decency of Joe Paterno. I question the corruption of the power of the Penn State football program. Joe Paterno has been tied to the Penn State football program since 1950, head coach since 1966. “Joe Paterno” is almost synonymous with “Penn State”. His aura is ubiquitous in State College, Pennsylvania.

Power corrupts. I highly doubt that Paterno, had he seen what McQueary saw at a local gym, would have informed the manager and gone home. In fact, I think Paterno would have intervened himself, certainly with his words and possibly by physically confronting such an assailant. In the hypothetical scenario, Paterno would likely have acted and been lauded by the community as a hero. What’s the worst that could happen? His gym membership is revoked? Not likely; he’d probably get a free membership (if he didn’t already have one).

However, power corrupts. Paterno is a legend in college football and I cannot imagine him being treated as anything other than a living god in State College. An allegation of child sexual abuse could tarnish his image, his legacy, his football program, and his university. Paterno didn’t ban Sandusky from the facility (where Sandusky was reported to be working out last week). There is no report that Paterno found out who the child or his parents were. Paterno punted to the athletic director, fulfilling his legal obligation, but no more. Power corrupts.

Paterno at his home last night 3

I do not question the fundamental sanity of Jerry Sandusky. I question the corruption of the power of the Penn State football program. Sandusky was a long time assistant at Penn State, a one-time heir apparent to the legendary Paterno. Generations upon generations of Penn State football players transitioned from adolescents to young men under Sandusky’s tutelage, with many developing into professional football players. Sandusky had tremendous clout at Penn State.

Power corrupts. I highly doubt that Sandusky, had he been at a Christmas party at the home of an acquaintance, would have the gall to behave inappropriately with a child in that environment. He would have never had the level of comfort, in someone else’s house, needed to pull of such a heinous act. He may have been shot dead on the spot, without hesitation, had he been discovered under those circumstances.

However, power corrupts. Sandusky found a safe haven within the bowels of the Penn State football facilities. Sandusky was “the man”, answering to very few at the school whose football program he helped build into and maintain as a national powerhouse. Sandusky thought he could do anything he wanted to, no matter how immoral, at his safe haven. Allegedly, he did what he wanted and it was at the peak of immorality. Power corrupts.

Sandusky 4
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