Responsibility and Denial

In my line of work I am considered a mandatory reporter of child abuse.  This means that if I even suspect the presence of child abuse, I need to contact the authorities.  The way it works in my office, I have to go through a long line of people before the authorities are actually notified, but it does happen.  First I tell my supervisor who notifies the legal department who contacts the proper authority (I believe it is the police or DCFS).  I have had to report once before and it felt good.  Granted, I would rather not have to report such vulgarity, but to know that there are children out there who are going to be better off because of what I did gives me a sense of deep satisfaction.

I bet many of you already guessed where this is going.  Ever since the Penn State scandal became public I’ve been thinking about my role as a mandatory reporter and who else in society has that role.  I couldn’t imagine that anyone in the education sector would not be a mandatory reporter.  I haven’t researched this and so I don’t know for sure what the rules are in schools and their administration.  All I can think is, how could a teacher, coach, administrator at a school of any sort, or somebody with a similar role not be required by law to report child abuse?  This is the only case in which I can see Joe Paterno as guilty by law.  Morally of course you can judge him and deem him guilty all you want.  But then I can’t help but think the most guilty is McQueary.  Should he not have been the one to go to the police or other proper authority?  He, after all, was the one to actually witness the crime in progress.  Once again, I am not an expert in the education field, but if I had been in McQueary’s position and seen that my superior was not contacting proper authorities I would have done that myself.  Perhaps I would have done that prior to going to my superior depending on the protocol set forth by the university for such occurrences.  Then again, he was only a graduate assistance, was he technically responsible?  In my office there are strict rules to adhere to as to the order of who is informed first and who informs who next, but it is all for legal purposes to protect ourselves and those in danger.  I can’t see how McQueary acting right away would have put anybody in a worse position than they are now.  On the contrary, it would have shown him to be a responsible adult.

Then we have the issue of Paterno reporting the incident and also being shut down.  Technically he did act, but he could have gone and called authorities himself once he saw that his own superiors were ignoring the incident.  But why am I so on the fence about what seems so cut and dry?  He didn’t contact authorities and neither did McQueary, no questions asked.  They both complied with what appears to be a plot to save the face of the university and the sports program.

Growing up, my brother was a loyal Penn State football fan.  You would never know that our only tie to the school was a cousin we rarely ever saw.  Something drew my brother to the team and that hero of a coach, JoePa.  Every day he would wear some form of Penn State gear whether it be a t-shirt, sweatshirt, jacket, ball cap, or something else.  If you knew my brother, you knew he loved Penn State.  It was a dream of his to attend the school and play football on the team, but unfortunately that was a far-fetched dream and come time to apply for college they didn’t even offer the program he wanted.  But he was still loyal.  Something about living in the same house as that fanaticism (okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it’s the best word I can come up with) makes the spirit contagious.  When the scandal came out, my brother was crushed and in turn rest of my family felt let down as well.  Somehow I feel Penn State is a part of me simply because it was such a part of my childhood as I helped my mom fold the laundry, folding dozens of nitany lion shirts, as I heard the games on TV in the background while doing homework, and when my brother told us that he ran onto the field after watching Penn State beat Northwestern University when they played in Chicago.

This week the podcast for This American Life revolved around the Penn State scandal and Penn State fans.  It was eye-opening to listen to what students and neighbors of the university had to say, how they felt.  They juxtaposed these thoughts with a podcast from 2009 when they interviewed people at Penn State and the result is compelling.  The podcast brings up ideas I hadn’t thought of before such as missing information as to the scandal, loose accusations, and the overall possibility that anything can come out of this.  We really don’t know what happened and who is at fault right now, all we know is that Penn State let us down.

Then there is the thought– what if something like that happened at my own alma mater?  What if Brad Stevens was accused of not reporting child abuse, or worse committing it himself?  Butler University, the ultimate basketball school in the good old Midwest wouldn’t know what to do with itself, and neither would I.  We’re the good kids, wholesome kids from Indianapolis (or so we seem) at a small private school not only rooting for their team but for the pudgy, panting mascot, too.  I’d rather not think about it because the image is too grim.


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