Safe Horizon's Michele Vigeant on Community Responsibility to Protect Children from Abuse
Posted on: Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Joe Paterno, Penn State 'paying price' for alleged Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
By Ernie Palladino
Dennis Barrett has been friends with besieged Penn State University coach Joe Paterno since he worked at the Nittany Lions' summer camps as head coach of Monsignor Farrell High School.
But even the 68-year-old Staten Island legend could not find justification for Paterno's, or the Penn State hierarchy's, actions in the current scandal surrounding allegations that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky abused young boys.
"Those poor kids who are ruined for life," said Barrett, who coached both on the high school level and college level at Kings Point. "That was my No. 1 thought. You're using your position to abuse those kids?
"When I first heard about it, I gagged. I thought I was going to throw up."
Barrett's feelings were not uncommon yesterday, as the growing scandal produced a maelstrom of outrage from the Island's football and social services communities. The overriding thought that everyone involved, from the president of the school to the winningest coach in college football history, must be punished for the college's inaction to Sandusky's alleged behavior around children.
"He can't coach one more minute," former Curtis High coach Fred Olivieri said of the 84-year-old icon Paterno. "He should have been gone the moment it broke. He's had an unbelievable career, but this is as bad as I've ever seen."
One of the major offshoots of such a high-profile scandal could be greater scrutiny on coaches, whether regarding their relationships with players or children involved in their charities. That was thecase with Sandusky, who allegedly used his position with his "Second Mile" organization to abuse boys as young as 10 years old.
West Brighton resident Marion White, founder and executive director of the Child Abuse Prevention Program, said the scandal will cause advocacy groups to look more closely at the role of adults in reporting cases of sexual abuse.
"For CAPP, the point of reference is not why children don't tell, but rather why adults don't report it," she said, noting that "there is a fine line between your legal responsibility and your moral responsibility."
Adults, she said, may not report suspicions of abuse because they are uncomfortable with the topic, are in disbelief or they are trying to protect the offender.
This is especially true at a respected institution like Penn State, known for its football and its scholarship.
"But, I think the most glaring reason adults don't tell is that they diminish the impact the abuse has on a child when compared to the impact reporting it will have on the accused and their organization."
John Quinn, former Penn State defensive tackle and captain, and 2000 Staten Island Sports Hall-of-Famer from Farrell has been a supervisor, principal, and teacher in Maryland.
"I'm in shock. It was so sickening when I heard all this stuff. I'm still trying to get in touch with my feelings on it.
"Shocking because I knew Sandusky as a coach. I was there in the mid-70s, and you could tell he was developing as a coordinator. He was a genuinely nice guy, really affable, and when he was on the field he was a good teacher. You turn on the TV on Saturday and my mouth dropped. I just couldn't believe it.
"It's hard for me to fathom. In Maryland, we've got some really strict reporting laws so that if you're in any kind of education profession and you suspect child abuse at all, the law says you have to notify child protective services. As a high school principal, I had teachers who wanted me to go to the services, but it was the teacher's responsibility, and it was my job to make sure they followed up on it like they were supposed to. We'd tell in-service teachers that if you don't do this, you could be fired. In Maryland, it's a serious issue and it's taken very seriously."
As for whether Paterno did enough?
"That's a hard one," Quinn said. "It's a matter of how much did the graduate assistant tell Joe? I think there's some more process stuff that needs to happen. I think he thought he was doing the right thing because he passed it along to the athletic director, because it was more a university matter than a football matter. Either way, I feel bad for him. He's such an honorable man.
"If Joe knew all the details and he was callous about it, that's one scenario. But if he didn't know as much as people think and he thought he was doing the right thing by just passing it on and it would be taken care of somebody else, then I feel a little bit for him, I guess. It's hard to separate my feelings and admiration for him from this. It's tough. It's really tough. This is not the way anybody wants to see Joe Paterno go out."
Paterno's failure to take an extra step in his chain-of-command reporting of Sandusky's alleged behavior has become a focal point in the story.
"He did the lawful thing, but he didn't do the other things, which was to fry his friend," said Susan Wagner coach Al Paturzo, who this year became the winningest coach in PSAL history. "It was loyalty. I think he probably just blacked out and thought maybe it would all go away, maybe they would survive this."
The alleged coverup will likely consume the entire Penn State hierarchy, from school president down to Paterno. But the aftermath could produce a change in the way such things are reported from the bottom up. "I think this'll make people more aware," Barrett said. "It'll make people go directly to the top.
"Joe went to his superiors. Should he have done more? Let's face it, he is Penn State. I'd like to know what everybody knew, and when they knew it."
Michele Vigeant, the vice president for Community and Criminal Justice programs at Safe Horizons in St. George, said society, not just football teams, must become proactive in reporting such abuses.
"The majority of children are sexually abused by someone they know," Ms. Vigeant said. "These situations are always so complicated, but as a society we are all responsible for reacting and protecting our children. We really need to create a climate of zero tolerance for our children. It's our moral obligation."
Whether zero-tolerance will force a change in the way coaches conduct themselves in relation to their players is anybody's guess. Paturzo said he doesn't plan on altering anything he does on the sideline.
"That would be really silly," Paturzo said. "If I put my arm around a kid, I'm not going to worry about it. We go to war with these kids every day, and once in a while you gotta hug them. This shouldn't affect the way we act."
"You ever heard of this anywhere, at any level?" he said. "In my opinion, this is just so isolated, so just unprecedented, that it just couldn't exist. It's unique.
"Not to cast aspersions on Penn State, but the right circumstances existed in the story we're now following."
Barrett said he'd "hate to see coaches walking on eggshells now." But he added that whatever happens to his friend, Paterno, will not be unjustified.
"I always told the kids that in order to win, you pay a price," Barrett said. "When you screw up, you pay a price for that, too. There's always a price to be paid. This is the price."
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