Of Football and Sexual Harassment

Joe Paterno is easily one of the greatest college football coaches in history. He set the record for Division I wins (409), coached the Penn State Nittany Lions on to two national championships, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007. When students learned that “JoePa” was retiring at the end of the 2011 season, they were shocked and saddened. The situation got even worse when it was announced that he was fired because of a sexual harassment scandal involving another football coach, defensive coach Jerry Sandusky. Facebook statuses flooded with outrage for the school and for JoePa’s innocence. Why should the head coach–a legendary one–be punished for the wrongdoings of another coach?

Contrary to the students’ beliefs, JoePa was not exactly innocent.

In a nutshell, Paterno reported the sexual harassment to athletic director, Tim Curley, like he was supposed to. However, he left out the details of the incident–witnessed by a wide receivers coach, Mike McQueary–and failed to report it to the police. You would think that one of the most respected head coaches at a Division I school would realize that such a tragic incident would illicit a higher authority. As a result of his big mistake, Paterno, along with Curley, University President Graham Spanier, and most likely others have been or will be fired. Now, Penn State must work to rebuild their reputation  and assure others that something like this will never happen again.

Unfortunately, many students are still hung up on the idea of Paterno leaving the school. Riots in support of Paterno broke out across the campus, and those in favor of the firing were in the minority.

Many students still fail to realize the situation: several people were sexually harassed, and nothing was done about it. We must separate Paterno’s success from the fact that he did not carry out his duty as an authority figure. Sexual harassment is a serious issue that often goes unreported, and we must not excuse Paterno from perpetuating it. It was encouraging to hear about various vigils held for the victims and the acts of respect at the Nebraska-Penn State game.

Although awareness of the issue is spreading, we must remember that this is not about football, but rather sexual harassment. We know that it happens and we may even witness it. It is our duty to contact local authority figures who have the power to end it. Paterno did the right thing in letting a superior know about Sandusky, but he should have let the police know. As unfortunate and damaging his termination may be to the Nittany Lions, it was necessary to remind others that sexual harassment requires a zero-tolerance policy.

If you are a victim of or have witnessed sexual harassment, here are a few resources that can help you:

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One thought on “Of Football and Sexual Harassment

  1. What McQueary saw, though – that wasn’t just “sexual harassment,” right? I was told that he saw full-on anal rape of a young boy in the showers perpetrated by one of the coaches. (There’s so much misinformation out regarding the scandal; I have no idea what’s going on half the time.)

    To me, this entire incident was a breakdown of the power hierarchy and “pass it on” mentality that we have. You see something horrifying, or wrong, or bad, and what do you do? You “pass it on” to your superior because THEY should know what to do – the false assumption of having authority figures – partially because you don’t want to deal with it. Who WANTS to deal with it? It’s horrible and inconceivable, and I bet McQueary couldn’t even register what he’d seen until awhile later.

    Theoretically, each person continues to pass the incident on to their higher-ups until disciplinarian action takes place and/or the police are contacted. (This is another point of contention – the police should have been contacted IMMEDIATELY. But colleges like to insulate themselves, especially when it comes to sexual harassment or assault. It makes them look bad if it gets out, and THEY ALL KNOW IT. I don’t trust a single “higher-up” at our own university when it comes to things that may reflect poorly on the U. If something were to happen, I’d go straight to MPD – not even UMPD. Though, this is another matter.)

    But, like I said, the hierarchy broke down, and information wasn’t passed well because it was a giant game of telephone, and we all know how those work out. If only one person had stuck their neck out, violated chain of command, and just gone straight to the police…

    For those who are aware of it, this is, to me, the American version of the death of Yue Yue, the young girl who was ran over several times and ignored by roughly 18 bystanders who didn’t want to get involved. There are very different cultural limitations at work in that scenario, but the human sentiment of “someone else will get that, right…? I don’t want to get in trouble for this” is rather universal.

    Sad, sad thing.

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