The Second Mile, the charitable organization founded by then Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky in 1977 to provide a sanctuary for children in need, takes its name from the Bible, Matthew 5:41, a quotation from the Sermon on the Mount. "And whoever compels you to go one mile," it reads, "go with him two." The passage is about doing more than just the minimum, especially in aid of others. One of the saddest ironies of the sexual abuse charges against Sandusky that stunned and sickened the nation last weekend is that if the allegations that he assaulted eight boys over a 15-year period are true, he may have been allowed to prey on those children in large part because no one at Penn State would go that second mile for his victims.
This is an article from the Nov. 14, 2011 issue
We can dismiss the perversions of an accused sexual predator as forever beyond our understanding, but not the charges against Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz (who both professed their innocence but submitted their resignations on Sunday night). The two stand accused of failing to report possible evidence of Sandusky's crimes to authorities, as required by law, then perjuring themselves when they denied to a grand jury that they had ever been told that Sandusky had engaged in sexual misconduct. We imagine ourselves in their place and think, Wouldn't we have done more? How could an adult with even an ounce of humanity do so little to protect children?
The behavior of which Curley and Schultz are accused sounds like the actions of administrators trying to hide an NCAA violation instead of a reprehensible crime, and maybe that's not a coincidence. A cover-up culture pervades big-time college sports. Your quarterback traded memorabilia for tattoos? Keep it to yourself. Agents paid the rent for your tailback's parents? Pretend you didn't know about it. The goal is to protect the program at all costs, and maybe it shouldn't be surprising if, even in the face of such horrors, the first instinct was to place the institution ahead of the innocents.
Penn State officials seem to have been more concerned with protecting the school's reputation for ethical behavior than with actually displaying some. How else to explain their not following up a University Police investigation of a shower incident involving Sandusky and a boy in 1998, and then reacting to a second incident in 2002 by merely telling him not to bring any more children on campus? We don't want to know what you're doing with those boys, but whatever it is, don't do it here.
If the authorities are correct, what happened at Penn State is the worst scandal in college sports history, and any university employee who had knowledge of the accusations against Sandusky and chose to protect the school's reputation rather than protect innocent children is culpable—including Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions' iconic coach. The grand jury report absolved him of legal blame, but not the moral kind. According to the report, a graduate assistant found Sandusky engaged in a sexual act with a boy who appeared to be 10 years old in the shower area of the football practice facility in 2002 and informed Paterno of what he had seen. Paterno reported the incident to Curley, but there is no indication that the coach ever followed up on the information or alerted the authorities himself.
That is not the way a pillar of the community behaves. Paterno is not some middle manager who came upon a problem beyond his pay grade and reported it to his boss. Joe Paterno has no boss. He is the face of the university, the most powerful and, until now perhaps, the most respected man in Happy Valley. He should have used that power to make sure the assistant's claim was investigated fully. How many boys might have been spared if Paterno had arranged for the grad student to meet with police? What if he had gone the second mile?
In his statement Paterno acknowledged speaking with the assistant. "It was obvious that the witness was distraught over what he saw, but he at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the Grand Jury report," his statement said. "Regardless, it was clear that the witness saw something inappropriate involving Mr. Sandusky. As Coach Sandusky was retired from our coaching staff at that time, I referred the matter to university administrators."
So, the distraught young coach went to Paterno's home and described an inappropriate incident involving Sandusky and a boy. How graphic did his description need to be for Paterno to get more involved? And what earthly difference did it make that Sandusky was retired? Did that somehow make his behavior more acceptable, or was it simply a matter of, Not our employee, not our problem?
It boggles the mind, as does the thought of what twisted calculations might have convinced Penn State officials that essentially ignoring such a red flag was a prudent course of action. The embarrassment of admitting that they had a predator among them could not have been nearly as damning as what they face today. If there is some explanation for why they should not be considered both fools and cowards, let them offer it now. Otherwise, any Penn State employee who was complicit in a cover-up of Sandusky's alleged crimes should follow Curley and Schultz out the door. Box up their belongings and drive them a mile from campus. From there, let them walk a second one.