I find the duality of the Penn State’s football program quite ironic. Outwardly, there is a quest for football excellence, yet go deeper and find the ignoring and hiding of horrific crimes against minors and the protection for a predator. The layers of inexcusable behaviors are numerous and it all begins with Jerry Sandusky. He satisfied his sexual desires by preying on young boys for many years. He destroyed their lives for his deviant satisfaction. It is just as appalling the lack of action from both a janitor and a grad-assistant that witnessed Sandusky doing unspeakable acts with boys. A janitor saw Sandusky in the shower with a child. A grad-assistant walked in on Sandusky raping a child. Neither called the police. At some point Joe Paterno received this information and he casually passed it along. Arguably “Joe Pa”, the most powerful person on Penn State’s campus never followed-up on what was told to him. Did he just see Sandusky on the football field and pretend not to know? Did he toss the thought out of his mind and went on with the business of winning football games? By doing nothing, Paterno sent the message to Sandusky that Penn State University was a safe place to be a sexual predator. Also, Paterno’s inactions conveyed to the other coaches and staff that not reporting Sandusky to the police was acceptable.
Looking at Penn State’s Football Program from a system theory perspective according to Warren (1978) a social system is a structural organization of the interaction of parts that endures over time, i.e. a family structure, a community and organizations… a social system must establish and maintain boundaries in order to survive; when their boundaries become blurred, social systems become less viable. Often football teams describe themselves as a family and function much like a family structure. In this case, Penn State's Football Program functioned as a family that was dysfunctional and Joe Paterno was its paternal figurehead. In this family system it functioned closed; whereas it isolated itself from its environment and was highly resistant to influences from outside forces. This football program wanted to play by its own rules no matter what the cost. In addition, the staff that witnessed these crimes suffered from “bystander apathy” the unwillingness to do the right thing. This was the perfect environment for a person in power within this type of structure to prey and abuse the helpless and at the same time be celebrated as a great coach and leader.
Finally, the silence was broken for the victims, but the road ahead is a difficult one. Research shows that sexual abuse victims recover the best with family support along with psychotherapy and I would also add prayer . I hope the social workers and other mental health professionals are in their rightful place to provide the needed support for the children and their families.
Penn State University has the task of looking inward to begin the course of corrective action with its football program and campus as a whole. The firing and placing staff on administration leave is just a small step. A fundamental cultural shift must occur on the campus. No longer can a sports program be allowed to operate in isolation to abandon its moral responsibilities when it is convenient. Nor can they place people on pedestals and then ignore their wrongdoings. The pursuit for environmental change should include an open and honest dialog, a task-centered approach and staff accountability. There is a need for intensive training for Penn State's Football coaches and staff on the proper protocols with children on campus, i.e. mandating reporting, how to report abuse, working with at risk children, adult roles & boundaries with children and what sexual abuse is. Putting these recommendations in place is the start of building a new Penn State.
I have included the following links of the Grand Jury Report and the Scandal Timeline.
All the best,
Natalie Graves, A.M.
"The Other Coach”
Natalie Graves, A.M.
"The Other Coach”
Jerry Sandusky arrested: Grand jury report - The Washington Post
College football: Penn State scandal timeline - news-herald.com