The Penn State Child Sexual Abuse Scandal and Sports Morality

by Jas Faulkner, senior correspondent

The Penn State scandal raises questions that go far beyond the scope of administrative responsibility and the particulars of defining culpability according to the letter of the law.   What is at issue is the moral responsibility of those who run athletic programs towards everyone whose life and livelihood are affected by the decisions they make.

Joe Paterno may very well have escaped any criminal charges by taking what amounts to covering his tuchis when the situation was brought to his attention.  Even as I write this, there are fans who feel that his age and record as a coach should be enough to absolve him of any moral responsibility to the children who were attacked by Jerry Sandusky.  What should be remembered is that these kids are not only victims of  Sandusky, but of every person at Penn who “discharged their responsibility” and then passed the situation to someone else.

Jerry Sandusky’s failing is innate.  Anyone who would sexually abuse a child is a horrible, rotten creature who has abdicated any resemblance to a functioning human being.   He is a vile simulacra of a homo sapien sapien who operates on an ethical model that does not take into consideration the wants and needs of anyone beyond the limits of his own skin.   Can we really expect better from such a monster?  Probably not.

But what of those who claim a higher moral ground?  Did Paterno, who has historically been above the vagaries sports rivalries, and Penn State, a program that has set the bar when it comes to being above the usual barking nonsense of intercollegiate trash talk,  really think it was okay to act in a way that demonstrated they considered the image of the program more important than the well-being of children?  What does this say about them and anyone who would let a monster walk among them in the interest of getting along?

MaleSurvivors.org is one of many organisations in place for male victims of sexual abuse.

Two years ago, NHL alumnus Theoren Fleury disclosed that he was sexually abused by his coach while he was a junior league player.  The response was mixed. Within the hockey community, there was a reflexive circling of the wagons as people  began to look  askance at the mores regarding sexual assault against young men.  There was a contingent that blamed Fleury and those who would follow his lead by talking about the problem.

Unfortunately, this is a function of human nature.  My fellow anthropologists-by-training refer to this mental process as magical thinking.  There is the hope, however evil it may seem, that the victim somehow deserved what was done to them.  All it takes to not fall to a predator, get hurt, be a statistic, is to toe the line and perform the correct rituals in the right way.  We all know better and yet there is that primal urge to hope that this is somehow true.

Over the past two years,  those who work within the culture of hockey have seen the sport subjected to some hard hits  in both the literal and figurative sense.   So far the response to these crises has been moderately proactive in appearance.  Everyone asked the right questions.  What the hockey powers that be need to learn  from the horrific fall that the Penn State program has taken is that all of those good  thoughts and intentions arefollowed up by decisive actions.   Stating there is a problem is no longer enough.  We have seen cost of ignoring safety, mental health and youth welfare issues as they pertain to the game. The sum of the parts of this sport are better than the urge to let problems pass without action.  The cost if the profession does not act is too dear.