FORT EUSTIS, Va. –
Legendary former head football coach of the Pennsylvania State University Nittany Lions Joe Paterno showed a lack of integrity. There's a sentence I never thought I'd type or see in print. After all, "JoePa" had been the school's head coach for 46 years. Paterno, the all-time FBS leader in victories with 409, had been the figurehead who was so instrumental in keeping the university prominent and relevant for nearly half a century. His character had always been at the forefront of what helped make him so successful.
Then came the sex abuse scandal involving former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky - charged with molesting eight boys over a 15-year period. As the story of the scandal has progressed over the past few weeks, it has uncovered layer after layer of what seemed to be an impenetrable outer core reputation of good and decency, to find layer after layer of sickness, sadness, cowardliness and pain.
The scandal turned the school upside down, causing heads to roll in the circle of PSU hierarchy, to include Paterno, who was relieved of his duties, not so much for what he did, but what he didn't do. As the story goes, he let superiors know of an incident where he suspected a boy had been raped in a shower. However, it is widely believed he could and should have done more. He never went to police and has since admitted he wished he'd done more. His lack of action and integrity, along with that of numerous others at PSU, enabled the alleged molestation to continue. This is a reminder of the bystander training JBLE employees have to take annually - the ultimate example of the turning of a blind eye or deaf ear and allowing heinous acts to continue, while holding the power to do something about it.
The scandal spearheaded rioting and a potentially volatile situation as PSU prepared to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers Saturday at State College, Pa., the home of the Nittany Lions and an area often referred to as "Happy Valley." Both teams huddled on the field before the game in prayer for the alleged victims. The scene was strange and somber, no "JoePa" to be found.
All the pain, firings, sudden changes, and alleged criminal behavior could have been averted, or at the very least, largely truncated, if certain figures in positions of power had shown integrity, which is often defined throughout the military as "doing the right thing, even when no one is watching you." Instead, vital information and inappropriate activity was allowed under the noses of the powers of PSU, including Paterno, and swept under the rug for more than a decade before its stench rose from that rug and spiraled into a firestorm of pain, despair and disappointment.
Hopefully, there is a lesson to be learned. It's not enough to just report suspicious activity through your chain of command. You have to follow through and make sure incidents are thoroughly investigated, regardless of rank or level of clout. Integrity doesn't require the prominence and power that Paterno possessed. It just takes a little courage, something that doesn't require years of experience.