Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Sandusky verdict bursts moral bubble

The most important takeaways from the Jerry Sandusky story, which ended in handcuffs Friday night, are not, really, about Jerry Sandusky. There isn’t much to learn from the fact that there are sick and twisted people in the world, other than the fact that we are reminded the world is full of sick and twisted people.

The Jerry Sandusky story is, more importantly, the story of the enablers, the deniers and the neglecters, who either knew or refused to know what was happening in their locker rooms, their hotel rooms, their bathrooms or their basements.

It is easy, after an onslaught of horrific evidence was presented and the jury’s verdict rendered, to wonder in amazement how the entire affair happened — how a hero philanthropist coach was allowed to repeatedly molest innocent children under the auspices of one of the most revered athletic programs in this country.

But how often do we wonder in amazement at exactly how these things happen? How the priests who guard the faith could have committed similar crimes, and the high clergy that presides over them could have turned a blind eye?

We apply the same questions to other scandals that are not necessarily comparable to Sandusky’s, such as how our own Justice Department was complicit in supplying criminals with weapons that eventually killed two law enforcement officers, or how one of our nation’s most respected financial minds was really just constructing an enormous Ponzi scheme that cost his clients billions of dollars.

We never really stop looking for these answers, asking who knew what and when they knew it. Those questions will now come to the forefront at Penn State University, the once-respected institution that Sandusky turned into a playground for his perversions.

Those complicit and responsible have the misfortune of finding themselves in a situation most people do not find morally ambiguous.

Mike McQueary, the former assistant coach and one-time Penn State quarterback who testified he witnessed Sandusky sexually assault a young boy 10 years ago, has been criticized for not intervening to protect the child and not reporting the incident until the next day.

“He met the minimum obligation in reporting it up but did not, in my opinion, meet a moral obligation that all of us would have,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said after the Sandusky investigation became public last year.

“Physically, I didn’t remove the young boy from the shower or go and punch Jerry out,” McQueary said during his trial testimony.

Instead, he informed legendary Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, who in turn reported the incident to his immediate supervisor and the administrator who oversaw the university police, who did nothing.

The sickening consequences of that inaction are the victims who showed up in court with horrifying stories that took place after Penn State officials decided to look the other way, after McQueary and Paterno decided to outsource their own moral responsibility to the authorities above them.

Does that mean, though, they did not meet the moral test all of us would have, as Corbett said?

We would all like to think we would have acted heroically, rescued that young boy and stayed on Sandusky’s case everyday, demanding answers and pushing for an arrest. Yet, we are all guilty of overlooking things, the small things, the things that don’t really matter or the things that aren’t worth a fight.

We overlook things that have always been done or that everybody does; no one wants to stir the pot.

And then the little things become the big things, and our moral compasses get so twisted they’re no longer capable of pointing us in the right direction.

It doesn’t have to be child sex abuse. The whistleblowers in the Fast and Furious probe, for instance, did a great service by coming forward and revealing the Justice Department’s gun-walking tactics — after two Americans died. It would have been great to have whistleblowers before we had bodies.

The Sandusky story is, in the end, another reminder of how weak and fallible we all are. We are all enablers, deniers and neglecters. We rationalize ourselves into our own moral bubbles, and then the bubbles burst.

Mike McQueary and Joe Paterno aren’t bad men, but they allowed their judgment to be clouded — clouded moral judgment should scare us all.

Doing the right thing is easy; recognizing what the right thing is often very difficult.

Tray Smith is the online editor for The Crimson White.

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