“[These defendants are] good people who made a terrible mistake…Why no one made a phone call to police is beyond me.”
—-Dauphin County (Pennsylvania) Court of Common Pleas Judge John Boccabella, as he sentenced three former Pennsylvania State University officials, including former university president Graham B. Spanier, to jail terms last week for doing nothing after they were informed that told in 2001 that a former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, had been seen molesting a boy in a locker room shower. Sandusky was found guilty of subsequently molesting many other children.
This is, of course, the last act of the Joe Paterno/Penn State/Jerry Sandusky tragedy, which burgeoned into an Ethics Train Wreck and occupied as much attention on Ethics Alarms as any other event in the blog’s history. You can review all of that here, if you have the interest or the time.
Right now I want to ponder the judge’s statement with a few questions and observations….
1. By what standard can the judge call this “a mistake’? This is like George Costanza in “Seinfeld” asking his boss if having sex on his desl with the office cleaning woman was wrong, as if the option posed a legitimate puzzle at the time he did it. Was it a mistake because Sandusky turned out to be a serial child predator rather than just trying it out that one time? Was it a mistake because for once the justice system held a university president and other administrators criminally responsible when they looked the other way to protect their precious institution while endangering innocent children? Did Spanier et al. make a “mistake” in calculating the odds? Was the alleged “mistake” not understanding that “I saw Jerry a huge 50-year old man naked in a shower with a little boy” meant that something was amiss? Do you really believe that was how these men were thinking? Did the judge?
2. Why does the judge say these were good people? Because they had responsible, prestigious jobs? Because people trusted them? Because they are white, or wealthy, or have no criminal records? There are millions of prison inmats who have done less damage than Spanier, Peterno and the rest. Are the good too? Better than the Penn State enablers?
3. It your ethics alarm fails when it is most essential that it ring like crazy, what good is it?