A Knee-Jerk Reaction to Joe Paterno, Penn State, and Protecting Children

As my children grow older, I’m forced to confront something terrifying: I will not always be able to protect them myself. I can try to make good decisions about who I let them spend time with and where they go. I can attempt to teach them about the dangers of the world. I can do a lot.

But I can’t be with them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Next year we’re planning on sending our older two to public school (we currently home school). At some point they will probably go to sports camps or summer camps. If I’m going to let them grow in a healthy way, they will need to be stretched, and part of that process involves heading out into the world without me.

This is why I’m depending on you. All of you.

If one of my sons is detained and led into a side room by someone who looks shady to you, I’m depending on you to follow them in and see what’s going on. If one of my daughters is standing on the sidewalk talking to someone in a car, and she looks uncomfortable, I need you to ask her if she’s okay.

If you’re at a sports camp or a summer camp and you see something inappropriate, I need you to find me and tell me about it. I need you to tell your superior about it. I need you to raise hell about it because these are kids for God’s sake and they can’t protect themselves.

* * * * *

I don’t know what went down with Joe Paterno at Penn State. I have a huge soft spot for the guy, and I loved the program.

But if someone went to him and told him that they saw an older man having sex with a young boy in a shower on campus (or even anything remotely close to that), and he didn’t tear down the walls of that school trying to find out what happened, then he let us all down.

The children of this world cannot get by only with the help of their legal guardians. They need other adults looking out for them: teachers, coaches, mentors, and friends.

Please. Don’t just report what you see. Pretend that child is yours. And act accordingly.

46 Replies to “A Knee-Jerk Reaction to Joe Paterno, Penn State, and Protecting Children”

  1. Well said my friend. And yes we must protect the children at all cost. I would rather be wrong in my assumption and act, then be right in my assumption and not act. Really appreciate you Shawn

  2. You said:
    But if someone went to him and told him that they saw an older man having sex with a young boy in a shower on campus (or even anything remotely close to that), and he didn’t tear down the walls of that school trying to find out what happened, then he let us all down.

    Amen, you hit the nail on the head.

    I’ve raised 2 boys and I’ve watched every adult who interacted with them. I always asked questions when they came home. I can tell when they are upset so I ask why. We MUST protect each others children.

    1. I think the folks defending Joe Paterno believe he is a really good person at heart. From all that I’ve ever heard of him, I believe that, too. The problem is, even really nice, respectable people can make huge mistakes, and no matter how much character the person has, mistakes still bring about consequences.

      It sounds to me, from what I’ve heard so far, that this is the case. But I guess we’ll find out more in the coming days.

  3. I completely agree that if he knew that boys were being harmed that he should have done everything in his power, which is a lot of power, to put an end to it. I just can not fathom that this man whom I have talked to many times could knowingly let this happen. I read the grand jury report and let me just say it was a struggle to get through it. It states that Sandusky brought one of the victims to the pregame buffets during the 98 and 99 seasons. I was in the room for all of them. I may have spoken to the boy who was assaulted. I certainly spoke to Mr. Sandusky. Should I have noticed something? I just wish that everyone would wait until we have all the facts before we sentence Joe to death. If it comes out that he knew everything and did nothing, he should be held accountable but he has never given anyone reason to doubt him in the past. He deserves the opportunity to tell us what happened. And Shawn, you have my word that if I ever saw one of your children in a shady situation I would most certainly intervene. Not just because it is the right thing to do but because I know you would do the same for me.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this, John. I wondered how you were taking all of this. From the Grand Jury report, it sounds like Joe Paterno has stated that he reported to his bosses exactly what happened. Why he didn’t go further with it, I don’t know.

      But I completely agree with you, that he deserves the opportunity for the legal process to run its course. No matter the outcome for JoePa, it’s a sad day.

  4. Well said, Shawn. As a social worker, it kills me that witnesses reported incidents spanning the past decade but didn’t take it any further than the school. Yes, the school administrators shoulder some of the blame but how could you see something so heinous and not do everything in your power to make it stop and to hold the perpetrator responsible? Those poor children. We must all be on guard and we must all do our part.

    1. The older I get, the more convinced I become that 99% of the atrocities in this world stem from the mistreatment of children.

  5. This. This exactly. Ask. Be nosy for kids’ sake. Don’t accept the easy way out. Ask uncomfortable questions. Wave flags, tear down walls, be a damned nuisance. Kids should not have to ask for help against predators.

  6. Amen, brother.
    I was reminded of the current movie, Courageous, where men in the movie resolve to be the godly men…men of integrity that God made them to be. And the courageous part is doing that at all times…especially when it’s not easy.
    We have to take our real roles in society seriously and act where the rubber meets the road!

  7. Thanks for putting to words what I have been feeling. As I follow this heart breaking story from abroad (South Africa), it makes me feel sick. This is my beloved Penn State! (I’m a Lancaster County guy). This is Paterno. This will forever tarnish JoePa.

    It seems like JoePa did not do anything wrong….but he may be guilty of omission.

    I’m in mourning on multiple levels…..

  8. We need to protect the children who are defenseless. Seriously, how can someone work with a person for years and not know what is going on?

  9. Thanks for putting things into perspective. I think you’re right on with this.

    It’s too late for Paterno to really make things right. However, he at least took a step in the right direction by telling his supporters to pray for these children. I think that’s something that can be lost in the midst of our anger. We need to pray for these children who have suffered so much. For all that is not commendable here, he at least got that part right.

    In addition, I can’t help contrasting this with the sex scandals attached to Herman Cain who has adopted a hard-edged, fighting mentality rather than showing a shred of remorse.

  10. I think if he comes out and just admits he dropped the ball (because no matter what, he did at some level), and apologize. That’s all he can do at this point. Nothing short of that is acceptable. Nevertheless, the train cannot run over Joe Paterno alone. The entire chain of command from the GA to Graham Spanier…no one did their part. I love the program and the school. And Coach Paterno is a true idol of mine. It kills me but I am also a father and I hope, if I were in their shoes, I would have acted in an entirely different manner.

  11. Very sad. I have a couple thoughts. Panic. People panic and don’t know how to handle these types of situations sometimes. We all think we would and many of us would, but also think about all that goes into this type of situation in the powerful positions here and the Name of Penn State were they to have reported this guy back when it happened. This always happens in life: if we act in fear, we bring the very thing we are afraid of about. They panicked to protect Penn State fooball and what’s happened? It’s gotten a worse name. I also don’t think it’s fair to question everything about Joe Paterno because of this huge mistake. Not saying you are, but what I read it seemed that because of this, people go so black and white and assume he’s not what he has presented. This type of assessment of human nature is so utterly misinformed and incomplete. Sometimes we make mistakes, HUGE, crazy and unforgivable mistakes. It sucks that we do this. You can bet that Paterno feels like shit, just absolute shit. But ultimately people have egos and they were all protecting them through a situation that brought them panic – and yes, kids always suffer at the hands of adult egos.

    1. It’s easy to lose a balanced view of people when someone is so popular and gets put on a pedestal. Our reactions are not always commensurate with what they should be, when people in these positions let us down.

  12. Great post Shawn. I agree that Joe P. should have moved Heaven & Earth to protect victims, but I also wonder how much of a strong arm the upper management held on Joe to keep it quiet. With the amount of money the football program brings to the school, I’m thinking Joe was only a cog in the whole process.

    1. I was wondering the same thing. I wish I could hear the conversation that went down when he reported this to the bigwigs at the school.

  13. Pissed. Thats the best word I can think of to describe the situation. Fathers. Thats another word I think of. Where are the fathers in our country who will stand up and protect the innocent? Don’t get me wrong any sex scandel is wrong, but what about giving drugs and alcohol to kids? We see it every day in our communities. Where are the men who will ask that kid, “Where in the hell did you get that joint?” or “Who gave you that alcohol?” Where are the fathers?

    1. Thanks, Cassie, stay protective. As parents we have to be willing to say “no” to our kids, to make the sometimes embarrassing statement to other parents that “I’m sorry my kid can’t come to your house – I just don’t know you well enough.”

  14. You’ve said it well! tear that place apart to find out what happened is the only right response!
    Dave’s Dad

  15. You always had a way with words. I would like to add a shame on joe for letting down a whole country. One of the few people that everyone could look up to disappointed a nation. Thank goodness it wasn’t one of my kids because I would probably be in jail now.

  16. I am not a parent but like a parent to my niece and I adore my nephew and their friends and I cannot even imagine such heinous crimes that I wouldn’t be motivated to murder.

    You have my word, Shawn. I will do my part to protect our children.

    Thank you for issuing this call to action.


  17. I have linked this article on my post. You have touched many people with your heart-felt plea and I hope that it saves children from harm. Thank you.

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