Lessons from the Penn State scandal

Like most of the United States, all of us at Lovefraud were horrified by the sordid story of child sexual abuse that emerged from Penn State University last week. Unlike most of the United States, we probably weren’t surprised.

That’s because all of us at Lovefraud have learned a very difficult lesson that millions of other people have not learned. This is the lesson: Evil exists.

For most of us, however, there was a time before the lesson. At that time we didn’t know evil existed—let alone what it looked like or what to do about it. So at that time, we were vulnerable to the sociopaths.

The sociopaths came into our lives, showering us with affection and maybe gifts, asking about our dreams and promising to make them come true. Kind of like the way Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach, treated some of the young boys from his Second Mile organization for disadvantaged youths.

Then, after a period of time, we glimpsed inappropriate or immoral behavior from the sociopath. Perhaps it was directed towards someone else. Perhaps it was directed toward us. In any event, we were shocked.

Did we really see what we thought we saw? Did that person, who we always thought was so wonderful, who had been treating us like gold, really do that? It’s so out of character. It can’t be true.

Kind of like the reaction many people probably had towards allegedly seeing or hearing about Jerry Sandusky abusing young boys.

Complicated issue

Many people at Penn State failed to take appropriate action to stop Sandusky from preying on young boys. All of the following people have been criticized:

  • Janitors who knew of an assault
  • Mike McQueary, the graduate assistant football coach who witnessed an attack
  • The Penn State athletic director and senior vice president, who failed to contact police
  • Penn State University President Graham Spanier, himself a family therapist
  • The legendary football coach Joe Paterno

But the issue is complicated. I am not making excuses for anyone, but experts say that any decision about what to do in this situation would have been fraught with psychological issues and societal pressures. An excellent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette raised the following points:

  • Did the officials who failed to report feel allegiance to a friend? Did they feel allegiance to Penn State football, or to the university?
  • What about the phenomenon of “diffusion of responsibility”? Did everyone think reporting was someone else’s responsibility?
  • What about the human brain, which is “remarkably adept at believing what it wants to believe—”and not believing what it doesn’t want to believe?

Read Penn State: Why doing the right thing isn’t as easy as it seems, on

Teachable moment

So how do we correct the problem? How can people be prepared to respond appropriately when they come face to face with evil? We need awareness, education and training:

  • Awareness: Evil exists.
  • Education: Evil is not always obvious. Sometimes, it masquerades as goodness.
  • Training: When we discover evil, what do we do?

Quite frankly, I think many of the people who could have reported the behavior of Jerry Sandusky were shocked into inaction. They saw or learned something unbelievable. They didn’t know what they saw or learned was possible. Then, with no guidance about what to do in such a situation, they decided there was less personal risk in doing nothing, or doing the minimal, or soft peddling what they learned, in case they were wrong.

Make no mistake: Doing the right thing in this situation involved enormous personal risk. It was the individual’s word against that of a scion of Penn State football. It was like going up against the church.

Perhaps, in the end, good will come out of this tragedy. What happened at Penn State has provided a teachable moment on a grand scale.

The child sexual abuse scandal has forever tarnished the legacy of the legendary Joe Paterno and the storied Penn State football team. It is a lesson of what can happen when people fail to do the right thing. The sudden and drastic downfall may be just what is needed to help people faced with similar situations in the future take the personal risk and go to the right authorities.

Doing nothing may be safe in the short term, but perilous in the long term. If Joe Paterno can be ruined by not doing enough, anyone can be ruined.

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155 Comments on "Lessons from the Penn State scandal"

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BBE, I am with you on the head trauma thing, any “sport” that has consistently high numbers of participants who are getting knocked unconscious or nearly so, so that the chronic traumas to the brain cause dementia and/or death at an early age, and I would include football, hockey, and boxing for the first 3, should not be allowed. However, I doubt that the multi-billion dollar sports set up in the world is not going to be flushed down the toilet because some old woman in Arkansas doesn’t like violent sports.

I realize that there are RISKS in life, and that when we are born, we are going to eventually die of something. That said, I never allowed my sons while they lived in my home to own or ride a motorcycle (though Patrick secretly stole one and kept it at a friends house–so much for my “rules” LOL) He played football one year (mostly sat on the bench) and my husband and I did NOT go to a single game because we did not support it or endorse it. He was 17 so at that time I did let him play against my wishes. I also never allowed either of my sons to ride bulls or bucking stock in rodeo, though I did allow them to ride horses. I also encouraged base ball and soft ball, basketball, running, flag football, swimming, scouting, and other non violent sports.

The violent sports thing is nothing new as the Aztecs and the Romans and many other cultures made athletes into Demigods and heroes. Who knows how long before them that it was so? So I don’t expect it to change now even with the new knowledge of what it does to the brains of those participants, the stakes are too high in money for it to change, either from the participants or the team owners or the “fans.”


Even soccer is now under scrutiny and probably for the good. While I do partake in a dangerous sport, mountain biking, I don’t do anything crazy and when in doubt, I take a cautious approach.

That extreme fighting has become so popular is a huge negative on our society, but where are the voices against it?

BBE, I have never liked boxing, wrestling (fake stuff on TV), and extreme fighting is just over the line completely. And like the Romans started out with true athletics and then went on to blood sports, because the regular games were too tame as the public became more and more jaded, I think our society is doing the same thing.

Television and movies started out rather “tame” and now look at what is available. Look at the porno that is available, the twisted sex and mutilation that is available to KIDS when they are forming their adult sexual appetites…I have nothing against artistic photographs of the nude form, but the “Hustler” (or worse) degrading photographs and the S & M and other stuff that is available I think is so degrading to both the producer and the partaker. In the name of “freedom of speech” we have allowed this to proliferate, and in the name of “excitement” and MONEY we have allowed extreme sports, and even though Michael Vick’s dog fighting was and is illegal, it still goes on.

Human trafficking and sexual tourists who go to Asia so they can obtain 7 and 8 year old children is still big business in many parts of the world. Sometimes I feel guilty because I sit here warm and well (over) fed and there are tiny children being held captive in many countries, including mine by perverts. Unless I want to double my antidepressant medication I’m going to have to stop reading the news so much!

The Paterno thread was frozen by Donna so I thought I’d post this here. It is narcissism at it’s very finest:

Skylar, there will be an interview with Paterno’s widow, sometime today. Eugh…….oh, my

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