The Horror at Penn State by Judy Bolton- Fasman
Written by
Judy Bolton-Fasman
November 2011
Written by
Judy Bolton-Fasman
November 2011

“Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare Thy praise.” These past couple of weeks the rhythm of the opening words of Judaism’s central prayer – the Amidah – calling one to prayer have been in brutal, sickening harmony with testimony in the grand jury report about former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged crimes against young boys.

Mike McQueary – then a 28-year-old graduate assistant coach at Penn State and now an assistant football coach – testified that in March 2002 he walked into the locker room and heard “rhythmic slapping noises.” He said he then witnessed Sandusky, now charged with 40 counts related to sexual abuse of young boys, raping a 10- year-old boy. McQueary did nothing at the time. He finally did say something the next day to Penn State’s legendary and now fired football coach Joe Paterno.

Lord open my lips and the hearts of my children to say the right thing, to do the right thing.

McQueary played football for Penn State, so I’m assuming he’s a big, strong guy. How in the world could his first instinct, his only instinct, not be to tackle Sandusky and save that child? How could he have waited a full day to report what he saw? And why didn’t he report what he saw to the police instead of Joe Paterno? How can Mike McQueary live with himself?

Rhythmic slapping noises.

The interminable beat of the unthinkable loss of innocence follows one forever.

Back to instinct – that overpowering feeling lodged in the gut that indicates something is wrong. Instinct – teach your children to rely on theirs. Tell them that no one is allowed to touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. Tell them that they are not tattletales or babies if they inform a grownup that something inappropriate happened to them. And stress to your child not to be embarrassed about it. A child is never at fault if an adult hurts him or her. Teach your children that if something feels like an emergency, it is an emergency. Teach them that the same standards of safety and comfort apply to their friends too. A child should dial 911 even if she is unsure that it’s the right thing to do.

Save one life, and it is like saving the world.

Joe Paterno’s football fiefdom had its own rules. Apparently, in that world covering up the rape of a child was not a crime. Paterno and now former Penn State President Graham Spanier set aside the incident. Paterno continued to coach football, and Spanier raised money for a university where the religion was Division I sports and its idol, Joe Paterno. “In hindsight,” said Coach Paterno, “I wish I had done more.”

Hindsight is one of those slippery words people use when they get caught doing something wrong. You’ll hear people say hindsight is 20/20, meaning that looking back on something provides a clear-eyed view of an incident. Hindsight is almost always an excuse. Besides, hindsight does not apply in this case. The truth – the frightening, incomprehensible truth – is that Joe Paterno did nothing. Joe Paterno was a false idol and Penn State’s football program became part of a deal made with the devil. The moment my children were born, I had to depend on the righteousness, the morality of others to help me keep my children safe. When my kids were out of my sight they were with child-care providers, teachers and other parents – adults that I had to assume would do the right thing for my children because I would do the same for theirs. The adults to whom I entrusted my children would never be bystanders if they saw that my child was in danger. It was a tacit agreement, one that would always be honored. To do otherwise was reprehensible.

Lord open my lips and the lips of my children to say the right thing, to do the right thing.

If my child was among the Penn State students chanting “We want Joe, We want Joe,” I’d drive down to State College to tell him that he is supporting a man who heard a graphic description of a sexual assault on a 10-year-old boy and did nothing about it.

I wish I had done more.

I would tell my child and his misguided friends that the impressive record of victories and the admirable support of strong academics for college athletes are forever eclipsed by the “winningest coach’s” unforgiveable error in judgment. He was in a position to stop a sexual predator and he didn’t. He was in a position to bring a measure of healing to Penn State in the immediate aftermath of the revelations, but has remained notably silent.

Save one life, and it is like saving the world.

Mike McQueary should have saved that boy almost 10 years ago on that March Friday night in the locker room. Joe Paterno should have saved the world the very next day.

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