Louis Freeh’s report on Penn State and Jerry Sandusky reads like the not-too-original account of a honeymoon: He said all the right things, and in just the right tone. There were even pictures, in the form of exhibits. I am sure the university spent millions of dollars for the effort. But it teaches nothing we did not already know.
Penn State placed institutional concerns above the welfare of individual children. I guess that means the university is no better than the Catholic Church. Is anyone shocked?
Jerry Sandusky was a sexual predator who used his position at the university as a grooming arena for young boys. His colleagues and superiors either knew, or had ample suspicion that something was wrong, and they did nothing. No one wanted to do anything that might harm the secular church gathering on fall Saturdays to worship the school’s college football team. The pope superintending each mass, Joe Paterno, was above reproach. Turning a blind eye to scandal served the interest of those who needed to believe that there was something good, true and beautiful in Happy Valley.
Freeh’s report could just as easily have been written about any number of Catholic dioceses in the United States, with bishops playing the role of Paterno and doing what they could to control the damage done by errant priests.
No one calls for disbanding the Catholic Church as a result of the misconduct of a few lecherous old men. Yet some suggest the football program at Penn State should be disbanded. Freeh, thankfully, doesn’t go that far. He just wants a boatload of new compliance officers, policies and procedures to make sure that the wages of any new sins are paid promptly. His report ends with hundreds of recommendations on how to make sure children are never again victimized at Penn State. Some lucky law firm will make millions on the task of implementing all this. No crisis, no sin, no crime fails to generate more billable hours for the compliance crowd.
I read all these recommendations with a sense of weariness, even wariness. Until every nook and cranny of the psyche is policed, we will never be safe enough from the beast within. Just how did the human race survive its evolution for long millennia without legions of therapists, social workers and psychic cops?
Yes, Sandusky was a bad man. Such men have always lingered in the shadows, I suspect. Today’s mad rush to make the world safe has hidden costs all its own.
There will now be many claims filed against Penn State, and all the officials named in Freeh’s report who failed to act. Anyone claiming victimization by Sandusky can argue that but for the university’s willful blindness they would not have been abused. Just how many people will now ask damages for live’s undone, ruined, destroyed by Sandusky?
I’m told the university’s athletic endowment is flush, containing $1.8 billion. The university would be wise to set $100 million, or maybe even $200 million, aside to fund claims. Ten percent of the war chest the university assembled while ignoring Sandusky is hardly a huge sum, call it a tithe for today’s sin. I suspect an angry public will punish the university with eye-popping verdicts should it refuse to settle individual claims.
Freeh’s report was a priestly homily on sin, athletics and a major university. Read it from cover to cover if you like. Go ahead and weep, if you like. Just don’t expect to learn anything you already didn’t know. All that remains to be seen is how much the university, and the public who worships each Saturday at our gridiron churches, will pay to put this all behind us.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.