The news came this week that Penn State coach Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in college football, has been fired for failing to call the police when he learned that one of his assistant coaches had molested a young boy. The news was shocking. Paterno, who is known not only for winning but also for the high percentage of his players who graduate, is among the most respected coaches in the history of football at any level. After he was fired, football experts and fans across the country came to his defense. Students at Penn State came out by the thousands to show their support and rioted in the streets. And I’m thinking: “Has the world gone crazy?”
Paterno leaned of the sexual abuse from a graduate student and former football player who witnessed the assistant coach raping and sodomizing a young boy in the locker room shower. The graduate student never called the police. Instead, he walked away. It was not until the following day that he reported the incident to coach Paterno. Paterno listened to the eye-witness account, and he never called the police. He merely reported the matter to his superior; and that person ultimately reported the sexual abuse to the University President. Unbelievably, the President never contacted the police. Nobody did. And the criminal was allowed to walk free. Not surprisingly, he continued to molest children. In the end, more than eight young boys were his victims, and many more will likely come out of the shadows in the months to come.
I am a football fan. I am also a parent. Penn State’s reaction to a first-hand account of sexual abuse sickens me. From the graduate student, to coach Paterno, and all the way up the food chain to the University President, people who might have helped save a child elected not to do so. Instead, they callously turned away. While innocent young boys’ lives were being ruined, each and every one of these people were too concerned with their own selfish interests to really care. As a result, the abuse continued and more lives were destroyed. Would Paterno have looked the other way if it was his own grandchild being raped in the shower?
Children are incapable of protecting themselves from adult predators. Each of us has a duty to act decisively when we believe that a child is being abused. You do. I do, too. We all do. Once Joe Paterno learned that his assistant coach had molested a child, he had an affirmative duty to contact the police. Not to pass. Not to punt. Now his stellar 61 year career is over and his reputation is sullied. There are hoards of people across the country who are rushing to come to his defense. But who will defend the children?
Gary Frank is an attorney and a children’s advocate with over thirty years experience in handling custody and child abuse cases. He was an appointee to the Governor’s Task Force for Prevention of Child Abuse; and he received a Volunteer Attorney award from the Maricopa County Bar Association for his efforts to protect an abused child, after having been asked by a judge to step in and represent the child in a Superior Court custody and dependency case. If you are in need of a consultation, please do not hesitate to call our office at 602-383-3610; or email us at [email protected]; or to contact us through our web site at /.