Yes, the horrific behavior of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, as it has been detailed in a state grand jury report, deserves our scorn and condemnation.
Even after the abuse was uncovered, Sandusky kept his access to the football program. The response by university official was a request that he not shower with children anymore. No one reported this to the police.
The alleged abuse that took place at Penn State is a lesson in the bystander effect. That former university administrators and coaches allegedly allowed the abuse to occur is not only disgusting, it represents a complete abdication of our citizen responsibilities. What happened at Penn State could happen anywhere.
People have and will continue to say they would have “done something” or “gone straight to the police.” Such statements are easy to say in front of the like-minded. But, in reality, it is much too hard to do. This is why whistleblowers are, for the most part, condemned and shunned by society. It sometimes doesn't even pay to be morally responsible.
Just think about Joe Paterno. He failed to do what was right at the very moment society expected him to exercise his moral citizenship responsibilities. Paterno is a not a terrible human being. Even following his termination, he's still not a bad person. He was a great coach who dedicated his life to building the Penn State football program and supporting academic life on campus. However, he shouldn't have looked away.
Paterno and Penn State were engulfed and overwhelmed by the so-called “bystander effect,” which is when citizens consciously choose to do nothing because everyone else is doing nothing.
It's quite common. After Jayna Murray was murdered in a yoga studio in Bethesda, Md., Apple Store employees working immediately next door and hearing her screams decided to do nothing. The Apple manager even reported hearing a woman saying: “God help me. Please help me,” and “Talk to me. Don’t do this.” The now-famous video clip of Chinese toddler Xiao Yueyue being struck by two vehicles while people stood by, watched and then did nothing is a reflection of a desire to embrace bystander-ism.
It's harder to do the right thing when everyone else is doing nothing. The number of people at Penn State who reported the alleged abuse and then did nothing is far-reaching, but not surprising. Why? Building Penn State’s program took decades, and this abuse scandal has forced society to scrape the veneer to discover the ugly truth.
Penn State administrators and coaches did what they thought was right as citizens. They did nothing.
Chris Dolan is an assistant professor of political science at Lebanon Valley College and the author of “Striking First,” “In War We Trust” and “The Presidency and Economic Policy.”