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The Misplaced Priorities of Penn State Students

Thursday, November 10, 2011, 12:25 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

For those who haven’t been paying attention, here’s a brief recap of the scandal currently enveloping Pennsylvania State University and its football program:

  1. A grand jury has indicted former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on multiple counts of child molestation during his employment at the university.
  2. Also under indictment are two other university officials, athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz, for perjury and failing to report the alleged molestation.
  3. Last night, the university’s Board of Trustees fired head football coach Joe Paterno, who has not been indicted but admits having known about the alleged crimes when they happened, and university president Graham Spanier, who the board apparently felt hasn’t handled the unfolding scandal well.

Blogger Ann Althouse call the firings “necessary” and links to a New York Times article about last night’s announcements and the reaction thereto. Emphasis is mine.

After the announcements about Mr. Spanier and Mr. Paterno, the news conference immediately took on a frenzied and somewhat vitriolic tenor. Angry questions were shouted at Mr. [John] Surma [Jr., vice chairman of the board], who responded to them while the other board members sat behind him and to his sides. One cameraman repeatedly said, “Your campus is going to burn tonight.”

The scandal, and the fallout from it, has left Penn State’s normally placid campus in a state of shock. Scores of students poured into the streets downtown in the immediate aftermath of the news conference. Many held up cellphones to take pictures and others blew vuvuzelas and air horns. A few climbed lampposts, tried to topple street signs and knocked over trash cans. Others set off firecrackers from the roofs of buildings, and a television news truck was flipped on its side. A lamppost was torn down and police pepper-sprayed some in the crowd.

“I just don’t think it’s right that JoePa’s losing his job,” Corey Davis, a 23-year-old senior studying international politics, said. “All the facts aren’t out, we don’t even know he’s done anything wrong. Joe’s the fall guy.”

Kathryn Simpson, 20, a junior studying graphic design, was weeping as she walked away from the university’s administration building, Old Main, with a friend.

“This is devastating for us,” she said. “I never in a million years thought I’d see this.”

Also linked by Althouse is a Times article about the rioting itself. Again, emphasis is mine.

After top Penn State officials announced that they had fired Joe Paterno on Wednesday night, thousands of students stormed the downtown area to display their anger and frustration, chanting the former coach’s name, tearing down light poles and overturning a television news van parked along College Avenue.

[ . . . ]

“I think the point people are trying to make is the media is responsible for JoePa going down,” said a freshman, Mike Clark, 18, adding that he believed that Mr. Paterno had met his legal and moral responsibilities by telling university authorities about an accusation that Mr. Sandusky assaulted a boy in a university shower in 2002.

[ . . . ]

“We got rowdy, and we got maced,” Jeff Heim, 19, said rubbing his red, teary eyes. “But make no mistake, the board started this riot by firing our coach. They tarnished a legend.”

There was no anger, vitriol, weeping, or devastation on the part of students and media when the molestation indictments were announced. No one got mad enough to riot when they heard that university employees allegedly hurt children in the most horrible and inexcusable way and then covered it up. Students didn’t worry that young lives were not merely “tarnished,” but damaged beyond repair, all because no one bothered to call the police. Rather than laying the blame where it belongs—on the many people, including Paterno, whose unmet legal and moral responsibilities included reporting the alleged crimes to law enforcement officials (that fact is not in dispute, contrary to student Mike Clark’s erroneous assertions)—they are blaming the messengers in the media and the board members who finally had the guts to make heads roll.

One can safely assume that none of the pampered pinheads griping and moaning was ever molested. But they’re adults now, and they should start acting like it. No one person, and certainly no football program, is worth the innocence of a child. The problem at Penn State isn’t that Joe Paterno has been fired; it’s that he and others who kept this under wraps weren’t fired sooner for their failure to do what any decent human being should do instinctively: take immediate action to protect a child being hurt.

The rallying cry of the students protesting is “We are Penn State.” If that’s true, Penn State isn’t worth much.

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