We Could Be Heroes

By Ramzy Nasrallah on June 25, 2012 at 1:00 pm
the joepa statue used to be here

Surely you would have stopped Jerry Sandusky.

If only it had been you in Mike McQueary's shoes instead of Mike McQueary: Had you entered that vacant Penn State locker room the Friday night before Spring Break only to hear rhythmic slapping and grunting coming from the showers, you would have done more than just slamming a couple of locker doors and hoping that your manufactured coitus interruptus would be enough to solve everything.

If you were Penn State VP Gary Schultz, that secret file of allegations against Sandusky wouldn't have been a secret. It wouldn't have even been a file - you would have immediately acted on the first hint that there was a problem.

If you were Tim Curley, whom Joe Paterno hand-picked to be Penn State's athletic director shortly after the university joined the Big Ten, there is no way a pedophile would have been able to regularly use your flagship program's facilities as his personal rape room.

If you were Penn State special counsel Cynthia Baldwin you would have recused yourself from what was clearly becoming a ticking ethical time bomb and put a hard stop to the university's culture of silence.

If you were John Raykovitz, CEO of The Second Mile and you had been told in 2002 of what happened that night McQueary stumbled upon a locker room rape - and then told again three years ago of the molestation probe into Sandusky - you would have at the very least disassociated him from the charity, instead of allowing him to "retire" from it in 2010, the second such time he was allowed to gracefully exit an institution he had used to violate children.

If only you were Paterno himself, you would have emphatically stamped your name on the apprehension of the predator who was once your grad assistant, whom you hired twice, promoted three times and became the architect of Linebacker U under your stewardship.

Surely you would have stopped him. Everybody would have stopped him.

Ultimately Sandusky was finally stopped by a 22-year old woman who luckily just happened to ask too many questions. It is impossible to know if the final police investigation into his serial molestation of children would have fizzled without her intervention, but the tragedy of Sandusky's victims is that fizzling investigations and limp interventions were the norm.

Without Sara Ganim, who is to say if the defining investigation into Sandusky would have come to the same conclusion, meaning that it actually concluded?

the brand, the brand, the brandAn educator of men through both action & inaction.

There are two conspicuous reactions by the public to this tragedy: One is the number of college football fans of the non-or-anti-Nittany Lion variety actually wondering - in fact, demanding - that there be NCAA violations attached to the crimes and coverups that went on for so long at Penn State.

This would be like US troops issuing Saddam Hussein a parking ticket shortly after his apprehension. What the NCAA does or doesn't do to Penn State football is entirely meaningless.

The worst is yet to come for the university, which is actively seeking to buy away at least some of the mess that lies ahead. The Louis Freeh investigation should conclude by the end of the summer, and more people are going to go to jail. And then more victims will either come forward or be discovered.

Those fans are letting football cloud their ability to reason. The NCAA is utterly insignificant in all of this, as is college football.

The second reaction comes from the vast number of people now coming forward with unsolicited opinions as to what should have happened.

Some of those opinions are just sad and breathtakingly imprudent, as was the case with Coach K and Dick Vitale who like many Penn Staters have consumed themselves with defending Paterno's legacy at risk of jeopardizing their own.

Regardless of what you believe Paterno knew in terms of specificity to Sandusky's actions, it's generally agreed he was given clues. After McQueary told him of the shower incident - and it doesn't even matter what exact words he used, though they were important enough to be discussed at night at the head coach's kitchen table - Paterno only passed the information along to Curley and Schultz.

He never pushed the investigation further. He never even bothered to figure out who the kid was, and Sandusky was a Penn State locker room regular up until the week of his arrest over nine years later.

Adjacent to those unfortunate presumptions from Krzyzewski and Vitale are the outraged opinions - probably like yours, mine and anyone with a shred of decency - that more should have been done. Hindsight just never fails to impress.

"The moral failure of every single person involved is appalling," read the Nov 7 staff editorial in Penn State's Daily Collegian. "No one did anything more than try to sweep this problem off-campus."

Surely somebody could have stopped him. Everybody could have stopped him. But they didn't, and the reason we all seem to land on is that Penn State football easily trumps the well-being of disadvantaged children.

That seems a little too convenient. It's a narrative that should make you suspicious, sort of like any person or story that becomes a recurring feature on ESPN. We just might be letting football cloud our ability to reason.

Almost 50 years ago a 28-year old woman named Catherine Genovese was walking home late at night from her job managing a bar in Queens, not even a half-hour from where Paterno grew up in Brooklyn. A man grabbed her and she screamed for help.

He stabbed Genovese, who kept shouting for help. A voice from the building shouted back to leave her alone and several windows lit up from the apartment building.

Her assailant ran away, but shortly thereafter those lights that had scared him off went dark again. He came back to her as she struggled to get back on her feet. He stabbed her again.

"I'm dying!" she shouted in vain. "I'm dying!"

the halo was added after Paterno passed away"Inspiration" by Michael Pilato.

Again the lights came on and windows opened up, sending him scurrying away once more. Genovese was badly injured and crawled toward her building.

Nobody ever came out to help her.

He came back a third time and found her agonizing at the foot of the stairs to her apartment. This time the assailant, whose name was Winston Moseley, proceeded to rape her and then stabbed her to death.

In total, 38 people witnessed the assault and heard her repeated cries for help. One of them called a friend for advice and eventually called the police.

When it was too late to help Genovese, an ambulance arrived to remove her body. And that's when the neighbors finally came out of their apartments to see what had happened.

This social phenomenon has since been called The Genovese Syndrome, also known as the bystander effect: The bigger the group, the more each person's responsibility is lessened or diffused. Individuals see nobody else taking action and then falsely assume that the problem has been solved or isn't severe enough to require their attention.

The rape and murder of Kitty Genovese - however accurate - is currently taught as a lesson for corporate governance and business ethics at every single MBA program in America: You have the responsibility to act, regardless of the size of your institution or group, regardless of whether you work in an office, a hospital or a restaurant.

This is a lesson taught in social science classes too. It's taught at Penn State.

McQueary's world didn't come crashing down in the months and years after he reported the shower incident to Paterno, who managed to close out his career "coaching" from the press box behind dark glasses without so much as a headset, as if anyone needed examples of how far beyond reproach he was in State College.

Curley and Schultz felt no pain by failing to apprehend or even contain Sandusky. Spanier saw the sun come out day after day. Raykovitz oversaw the expansion of The Second Mile in the years after he was informed of McQueary's incident.

Nobody did anything, which in effect made all of the individuals feel less responsibility to take action - even those with absolute power. The president, the vice president, the athletic director. Joe Paterno.

Ronald Reagan once said that heroes might not be braver than anyone else; they're just braver for five minutes longer. Surely you would have stopped Sandusky. Everybody would have stopped him. They just stopped short of those critical five minutes that it would have taken to follow through.

Child rape is a never-event. It cannot be tolerated; a society that eats its young is essentially destroying itself. Sandusky and all pedophiles like him justify their behavior while silent bystanders - often family members, close friends and confidantes - enable and embolden them to continue ravaging our future.

In the aftermath of the Sandusky ruling on Friday night there were a number of commenters and columns matter-of-factly proclaiming that there were no winners in this case. This short-sighted view is polluted by our strange need to declare a winner and a loser for every passing instance, apparently including serial child rape.

Those disadvantaged children from The Second Mile didn't need a winner. They needed a hero. Instead they got Jerry Sandusky. And then they got nobody.

So there were no winners, but more importantly - there were no heroes. There were just monsters.

View 57 Comments