In response to my last column about “bad apples” in our organizations, I received a scathing e-mail from a reader who took issue with my reference to “the beloved Penn State coach”. He accused me of presenting skewed facts and misleading the public by referring to the coach in this way, saying, “Paterno didn’t molest anyone and you give this impression with your slanderous comments.”
To be clear, I was talking about Jerry Sandusky when I referenced the alleged sexual abuse against young boys. The reader took issue with my using “beloved” as an adjective before the word “coach”. I responded back and pointed out that Sandusky has been on the coaching staff since 1969 so he must have been “beloved” by someone to have been employed by Penn State for so long. The term “beloved” is subjective in my opinion. (I also pointed out that he should have been accusing me of libel and not slander since slander refers to the spoken word and libel the written word).
After I was done with my bratty and sarcastic response, I realized that he had a point. I concede to the fact that Joe Paterno is widely known as the “beloved” coach and my reference to Sandusky as such may have been misleading. However, the angry reader missed the point of the column entirely which was about cops being outraged by fellow officers who tarnish the badge. It also dealt with having the moral courage to stand up and acknowledge bad behavior within our own organizations rather than turning a blind eye or attempting to cover it up.
In the reader’s quest to preserve the reputation of the “beloved” coach, he failed to see that Coach Paterno bears some responsibility for the alleged molestation that occurred on the young boys after it was brought to his attention. While he did not molest anyone, he failed to follow up on information he received from an eye witness and the molestations continued. I give him credit for at least reporting it to university officials but once he came to the realization that nothing was being done about it, he should have taken it a step further and gone directly to law enforcement. Just ask Mr. Sandusky’s victims if they would have preferred that Paterno or any of the people who had knowledge of the abuse step up and make some noise until they were heard.
When someone has knowledge of something illegal or harmful that is occurring and they do nothing about it, they bear responsibility by allowing it to go on. Period. When they ignore objectionable behavior, they are condoning it. Is it a horrible position to find themselves in? Absolutely.
Don’t misunderstand and think that I’m idealistic enough to believe that we can all live on a moral high ground. I can assure you that I have been guilty of turning a blind eye to something at some point in my life because I was afraid. Most of us have been in situations where we know we should say something but choose not to. It’s easier to remain silent because we risk being ostracized by those who would have preferred that the information never be brought to light. It’s easier to hope that someone else comes forward so we don’t have to be the one. After all, there are people who will be loyal to the person committing the atrocity and turn their anger towards the whistle-blower.
My admiration goes out to those courageous enough to stand up and do what it right even when it’s uncomfortable. Abe Lincoln summarized it best when he said, “I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.”