Friday, November 11, 2011

There is No Moral Authority without Accountability by Brenda B. McNeil

Former Penn State Defensive Coordinator – and graduate – Jerry Sandusky.
[Today's post was written by my mother.  She has had a very tough week, trying to reconcile the person she thought she knew and the institution that she loved with the revelations that have filled newspaper, television, and radio reports.]

     I am a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University Penn State and was born and raised 13 miles from the campus in the idyllic atmosphere of truly rural countryside with family owned and run small farms.  This past week has been a real gut check for me.  While a student at the university, I was a classmate of Jerry Sandusky for the entire 4 years of our undergraduate study.  I knew him as a student, as a student athlete, and as a friend.  I knew Coach Paterno as an instructor and assistant coach of our football team while a student and was totally excited to see him take the reins when Coach Rip Engle stepped down.
     What happens with maturity and perceived success?  What happens to those who have earned and are placed in a position of leadership and authority, and then fail to act when the most monumental moral decision of their life is placed at their feet? What a shock.  More importantly, what a shock to have the national and world news uncover some very disturbing evidence of this atrocious betrayal of the youth of State College and our nation, and ultimately the failure of the leaders of the community. What were THEY thinking?  A Predator was witnessed performing disturbing and illegal acts upon a child by adults, adults who were in a position of authority to act immediately to STOP the carnage thrust upon small helpless children.  Instead of exercising their authority to protect these children, the adults acted to preserve the good name of the institution.  Instead of adhering to the spirit of the law, these adults found a way to be satisfied with the letter of the LAW.  And this was the position taken by ALL who became aware of the Predator among them.  
     Where are we as a society when "appearances" take precedence over moral authority?  Are we shocked into disbelief?  This really isn't happening HE would never do this, it must be a mistake!  We can deny the reality when it is easier, but what about the child?  How does he deny unwarranted sexual assault perpetrated upon his person without consent, without a voice?  Who are we not to step up as that voice, to legally and forcefully extract this monster from our society – at the very least from our institutions – and provide some degree of protection of the voiceless and powerless child?  Where were the adults in the room?  The head coach.  The graduate student witness and his father. The President of the University.  The janitor. The Pennsylvania State Police who dropped an investigation. The distinguished board of trustees.  The Centre County DA.  Who else is lurking with true knowledge of this monster in our midst?  What really happened at Penn State?
     Was it a vast cover-up to save the football program and the image of Penn State?      
     Again, I ask, what were they thinking?  My University, Penn State has always stood for moral authority.  This was taught to us at every turn a continuation of my mother's moral compass – and now as the obfuscation fails in the light of day, the reality is disturbing and sickening. Those in authority have all played a part in turning their backs on the children, pretending nothing untoward had happened. This moral lapse allows the devious and despicable actions of an unchecked monster in OUR midst to continue his depredations unabashedly for well over a decade.  And apparently this was happening with the implicit consent of the President of Penn State.  Take his keys and deny him access to the locker rooms?  This allowed a decade for this monster to stalk his innocent prey, to act out his prurient and illegal desires against child after innocent child.  How many have been irreparably harmed by the moral failures of the leaders in the community called Penn State?  What would the story have been if the adults in the room stood up and were counted?
     I still love Penn State – my school – and will never distance myself from this wonderful institution.  However, I cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that we, as a community, have much work to do to regain our moral authority.  It begins with a willingness to take action and hold others accountable, even if the consequences may paint the school in a less than dignified light.  Fiat justitia ruat caelum (Let justice be done though the heavens fall).  

Brenda B. McNeil

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