After spending years of his life sexually abusing boys entrusted into his care, Jerry Sandusky will likely spend the rest of his life as an inmate.
On October 9, a Pennsylvania judge sentenced the 68-year-old former Penn State assistant football coach Tuesday to at least 30 years in prison. And he may spend as many as 60 years behind bars.
After his conviction on June 22, he had faced a maximum of 400 years’ imprisonment for his sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period.
After the sentencing decision was announced, Penn State University President Rodney Erickson released a statement:
“Our thoughts today, as they have been for the last year, go out to the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s abuse. While today’s sentence cannot erase what has happened, hopefully it will provide comfort to those affected by these horrible events and help them continue down the road to recovery.”
No doubt Erickson–and the rest of Penn State–wants to move on from this shameful page in the university’s history. And the university has desperately tried to sweep the sordid scandal out of sight of the ticket-paying public–and of history:
- It fired Joe Paterno, the legendary head football coach who had led Penn State to a staggering 112 victories.
- It ousted Graham Spanier, the university’s longtime president.
- And it removed the iconic statue of Paterno–long held in worshipful esteem by almost everyone at the football-obsessed institution.
So what remains to be learned from this sordid affair?
A great deal, it turns out.
To begin at the beginning:
In 2002 assistant coach Mike McQueary, then a Penn State graduate assistant, walked in on Sandusky anally raping a 10-year-old boy. The next day, McQueary reported the incident to head coach Paterno.
“You did what you had to do,” said Paterno. “It is my job now to figure out what we want to do.”
Paterno’s idea of “what we want to do” consisted of reporting the incident to three other top Penn State officials:
Their idea of “what we want to do” was to close ranks around Sandusky and engage in a diabolical “code of silence.”
As former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh summed up in an internal investigative report compiled at the request of Penn State and released on July 12:
“Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University–President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno–failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.”
“These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the board of trustees, the university community and authorities. They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001.
“… In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the University….repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the University’s Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large.
“The avoidance of the consequences of bad publicity is the most significant, but not the only, cause for this failure to protect child victims and report to authorities.”
If there is a fundamental truth to be learned from this sordid affair, it is this:
THE FIRST RULE OF ANY AND EVERY BUREAUCRACY
–whether it be
- At the level of local / state / Federal government;
- For-profit organizations;
- Non-profit organizations; or
- Religious institutions
ABOVE ALL ELSE, THE INSTITUTION MUST BE PROTECTED.
During the 48-year reign of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, agents had their own version of this: Do not embarrass the Bureau.
Thus we have seen countless Catholic priests abusing young boys entrusted to their protection–only to be repeatedly protected by high-ranking authorities within the Catholic Church.
We have seen whistleblowers who report rampant safety violations in nuclear power plants ignored by the very regulatory agencies the public counts on to prevent catastrophic accidents.
Imperfect institutions staffed by perfect men obsessed with power, money and fame–and fearful of losing one or all of these–can never be expected to act otherwise.
And those who do expect ordinary mortals to behave like extraordinary saints will be forever disappointed.
So how can we at least minimize such outrages in the future?
“Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom,” warned Thomas Jefferson. And it remains as true today as it did more than 200 years ago.
Add to this the more recent adage: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
The more we know about how our institutions actually work–as opposed to how they want us to believe they work–the more chance we have to control their behavior. And to check their abuses when they occur.
Which they will.