By Sally Voth - email@example.com
As Penn State alumni and the nation at large digest the news that top college officials -- including lionized late football coach Joe Paterno -- apparently knew about and covered up more than a decade of child sexual abuse by one of their own, the head of the Virginia Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association said protecting children is paramount.
Hours after a damning report from a special investigation led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh into how much Pennsylvania State University officials knew about former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky's sexual molestation of children, VIAAA Executive Director Bruce Bowen said he hoped "a valuable lesson" was learned.
The investigation revealed Paterno, along with Penn State President Graham Spanier, Senior Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Timothy Curley "failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade. These men concealed Sandusky's activities from the Board of Trustees, the university community and authorities."
They did so to avoid tarnishing the school's reputation, according to the report.
Bowen discussed the situation in a Thursday afternoon phone interview.
"[These are] serious things that we need to be cognizant of at all levels, whether it's college or whatever," he said. "Obviously, it's disturbing what happened at Penn State. It's unbelievably terrible for the teenagers and young people who were affected by all this. We tend to be looking at Joe Paterno and Penn State, and not really talking about the true victims."
Vigilance is a must, Bowen said.
"I'm not saying they swept things under the rug, but you certainly have to be cognizant of that whether you're a coach, athletic director, college president or whatever," he said. "You're entrusted to take care of young people. That trust cannot be broken, and if it is, it needs to be dealt with quickly, swiftly."
Penn State administrators didn't do their jobs, Bowen said. Paterno was in a position of authority, and he needed to do more, not just from the school's point of view, but also because that would've been the right thing to do, he said.
"You have to do your job, both legally, but more so morally," Bowen said.
Virginia has a recent law requiring school staff to report suspected abuse, he said.
"You shouldn't have to legislate that," Bowen said. "It's always been a moral obligation."
Winchester resident Timothy Merkel, a Penn State alumnus and donor, said it was "difficult to understand" what had happened considering Paterno had such a great record as a coach, educator and mentor.
"The facts are what they are, and you deal with it the way you have to, and move on from there," he said. "None of the people are perfect with any school. I think the university is a great school, still has a lot to offer. I think it's just been hard to believe that this has happened with the administrators.
"I think that they ought to do everything that they possibly can to prevent this from happening in the future. I just think let's get on with it. Those people will have to pay for what they've done or not done."
Another Penn State grad, Strasburg resident Donna Crossman, said she hadn't had a chance to read the report, but had gotten the gist of some of it.
"As a Penn Stater, it's just so saddening, and I feel sick to my stomach for all that's going on," she said. "As far as victims go, there should be some kind of justice for them."
But, for Penn State alumnus Pete Walker, Paterno was a victim.
"I think the board of trustees of the university should resign, and I wrote them a letter telling them that after they fired Joe Paterno," the Middletown resident said Thursday.
He was angered the veteran coach was fired after announcing his impending retirement and before any allegations were proven.
"I also wrote the Paterno family and sent them a check for a hundred dollars to the Joe Paterno defense fund," Walker said. "I don't believe that Paterno was involved in a cover-up in any shape or form. If he knew that kids were being harmed, he would've put a stop to it. He might have had a blind spot. I don't think he could believe that Sandusky could actually do something like that."
He said he didn't have enough facts to comment about other administrators' actions.
"I just think that Pat has proven over the years that his integrity was beyond reproach," Walker said.