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Schnepf: Penn State incident a lesson for all of us

FARGO -- Imagine that we are an employee who witnesses a superior from our work doing something he shouldn't be doing -- like molesting a 10-year-old boy in the shower.

What would we do?

Back in 2002, Mike McQueary -- a graduate assistant football coach at Penn State University -- opted to walk away from such an incident before reporting it to his boss: head coach Joe Paterno, who then reported it to higher officials at the university, who then really reported it to no one.

Now, nearly a decade later, it has come out that Paterno's former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year-period, including four years when Sandusky was still a part of the coaching staff.

Last week, Happy Valley has become a sad state of a disgraceful cover-up -- which has prompted the firing of the school's president and the firing of the 84-year-old Paterno, the winningest and perhaps most revered coach in major college football history.

So many questions.

But perhaps more importantly, questions arose that we should be asking of ourselves.

What would we do if we witnessed such a reprehensible act?

We would like to think we would holler 'What the heck is going on here?' and make it stop. We would like to think we would act to protect a kid -- even if we feared we might lose our job -- and at least, dial 911. We would like to think we would report it -- like McQueary did -- but speak up if nothing was done about it.

What would we do if we were the football coach who was told of such an incident?

We would like to think we would dismiss the ramifications this incident might have on a program that we've built for four decades. We would like to think that all the clout and power we accrued over the years would not be used to convince superiors to keep all this hush hush. We would like to think we would react to this if it had been our own children or grandchildren who were molested.

What would we do if we were the president who was told of such an incident?

We would like to think a football coach -- no matter how popular he has become, no matter how many games he has won, no matter how much money he has generated for our university -- does not have the power to cloud our judgement. We would like to think we would report this incident to the appropriate authorities -- no matter how damning it may be on our popular football program.

What would we do if we were a devout fan of the Penn State football program and we just learned our beloved coach just lost his job because of this incident?

We would like to think we would not stage a campus protest to support him. We would like to think that we would not blame the media for our coach's firing and tip over a TV van. We would like to think that we would realize the real victim is not our coach, but the boys who were violated.

What we would do?

It's really a question we should be asking of ourselves. Because if we think nothing like this could ever invade our lives, we are fooling ourselves.

Let's hope and pray it never does. But if it did, what would we do?

Let's hope and pray we learn from the tragedy that has hit Penn State. Let's hope and pray we would do the right thing.

Schnepf is the Sports Editor of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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