Diligence – giving the degree of care required in a given situation.

As I write this, students at Penn State University are reeling from the announcement that the Board of Trustees has fired Joe Paterno, legendary head football coach, and Graham Spanier, University president. It appears that a majority of students interviewed believe that Paterno in particular is being unfairly treated.

I’d like to write as though I had the opportunity to address the students directly.

In my career as a hospice chaplain and grief counselor, there is no trauma I’ve seen with greater long-term psychic damage than childhood sexual abuse. The more trusted the perpetrator, the greater the damage. The “ball” we must keep our eye on here as we take in all the information regarding Penn State’s behavior in the matter of Jerry Sandusky is decidedly not a football.

Many of us have had unacceptable and even deviant activities take place in our milieu and been completely unaware of them until they were brought to our attention by inescapable evidence. Being unaware despite clues is not the salient issue in the case of what happened at Penn State. Failure to diligently pursue justice and safety for victims and potential victims in the presence of credible evidence of children at risk is the stinkball now painfully coughed up at Penn State.

As privileged university students with your adult careers ahead of you, you may be dismayed to find yourselves in the midst of a morality play writ large on an international stage. But there you are. Now you must decide what role you will play. Will you join the masses rallying around an icon and willing to wreak further havoc on the community in his defense? I sympathize with your confusion. Joe Paterno’s half measures, half true statements, and minimalist mea culpa are confusing.

However, I assure you that if you have intimate acquaintance with victims of childhood sexual abuse there is no ambiguity here. The “Players” brought low so far by this scandal (Spanier, Curly, Schultz, Paterno) failed to apply due Diligence to a criminal situation brought to their attention. Likely others drawn into this morass of inaction will also lose their jobs.

In a society focused on winners and losers, we are uncomfortable when a situation cannot be distilled down to that simple paradigm. There are no winners in Happy Valley today. Your board of Trustees is charting a course to salvage the values of a University out of the wreckage created by a predator who hid in plain sight, enabled by a culture of distraction and denial. The distraction was college football mania. It rendered otherwise alert men unable to appreciate the seriousness of the issue in front of them, unwilling to address it in an appropriate manner. You expected to be heirs to a proud tradition. That can still be the case if you extend to your Board of Trustees respect and support as they show the Diligence, the degree of care, that those victimized boys deserve. It is too little, and it is very late in the game, but someone’s eye is finally and emphatically on the right ball.

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