Joe Paterno: JoePa was the winningest NCAA Division 1 football coach of all time. He worked at Penn State University for 61 years and was head coach for 46 years. Besides helping thousands of young men grow up with the best sports had to offer, he and his wife gave four million dollars to Penn State and funded the library.
Graham Spanier: President of Penn State University for sixteen years at a salary of over a half a million dollars per year. He was one of the top paid public college executives in the country.
Benjamin Zander: Mr. Zander began composing music at the age of nine and is described as a musical genius. He has worked at the New England Conservatory with the youth orchestra for 45 years. He has been the director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra for 33 years and is also a renowned public speaker.
What do these men have in common besides being well-respected longstanding leaders of elite advanced learning programs? Each was fired from a job that they were better at than anyone else. Why?
Joe Paterno did the very minimum required of him in reporting child sex abuse by his assistant Jerry Sandusky. The Penn State Board of Trustees made the following statement: “We determined that his (Joe Paterno’s) decision to do his minimum legal duty and not to do more to follow up constituted a failure of leadership by Coach Paterno. We unanimously made the difficult decision that Coach Paterno’s failure of leadership required his removal as football coach.” For a program and by extension a University built upon the mantra “success with honor”, the board decided that doing “just enough” was in fact not enough.
President Graham Spanier was involved in the child sex abuse claims at Penn State as early as 2002 and evidently decided it was better to apply a band-aid to the problem and hope it would go away. (Maybe no one will notice.)
Benjamin Zander had written a letter of support for a man he knew that was being sentenced for rape of a minor. Knowing Peter Benjamin was a convicted child rapist and a registered sex offender, Zander later hired his friend as a videographer to film youth concerts and rehearsals. He never informed the New England Conservatory or the parents that he was bringing a man convicted of raping boys and filming it, into the henhouse. Indignant at first, the mess has, he says, humbled and transformed him. Zander has now publicly apologized for his lack of judgment.
On finding out that these men in positions of power and influence had not done everything possible to protect the children in their care, they were fired by their employers. Were they molesting children? No. But they were facilitating, if you will, the ability of the perpetrator to have access to children and potentially harm them. In the case at Penn State, the facts seem to indicate that Jerry Sandusky continued to molest young boys for years after it was well known that he had a history of abuse. In the case of Zander, it is not known if the videographer continued to molest children, but there was a very big secret being kept, and no accountability piece in place for the protection of the kids.
There is also a separate front where our courts are demanding accountability from leaders in the Catholic Church for their role in covering up for suspected and know child molesters. Monsignor William Lynn of Philadelphia and Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City are the first religious leaders being put on trial for protecting perpetrators and the church, instead of protecting the children.
We have things happening here that never would have taken place even two years ago. Our courts are holding administrative representatives of institutions to a higher standard. And the institutions themselves are saying stop to child sex abuse and the culture that supports powerful perpetrators over protecting kids from abuse.
Although we have a long, long way to go in protecting our children from abuse, this demand for accountability by the courts, the public, and the offending institutions themselves represents a tremendous level of success in the fight against child sex abuse. Those who have worked long and hard to get to this point have a right to celebrate their success. It’s going to take a lot more people and effort for the next steps, so please invite others to join in the fight as we move forward.
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.