By Glen Meakem
Last week, the results of an independent probe into the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case– led by former FBI director Louis Freeh and his Philadelphia law firm –confirmed what the Grand Jury investigation already suggested, and what many individuals already feared was true. In short, the probe confirmed that the four most senior Penn State officials of the past decade, including former Head Football Coach Joe Paterno, former University President Graham Spanier, former Athletic Director Tim Curley, and former University Vice President Gary Schultz, knew about Sandusky’s predatory behavior yet failed to protect children from his sexual assaults for more than 10 years. According to the report, these four individuals “repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities.” And as the Pittsburgh Post Gazette headlined last Friday morning, Mr. Freeh stated further that these four individuals displayed a “callous and shocking disregard for child victims.”
Why? How could “JoePa” and other Penn State leaders knowingly allow such atrocities to be carried out against little boys from broken homes? Why didn’t they step in and protect some of our most vulnerable children from abuse when they had the opportunity? What kept them from speaking out? The answer now appears obvious to everyone able to break free of the “JoePa” cult. For these senior Penn State leaders, it was more important to preserve Penn State’s football legacy and the reputation of their “God-like” football savior, Joe Paterno, than it was to protect these at-risk children.
Three and a half years ago in January 2009, I published an open letter in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review calling on Coach Paterno to retire from his position at Penn State. As a long-time citizen of Pennsylvania, I had become aware of the cult of personality that had built up around “JoePa” and was concerned that his unchecked power in our commonwealth was already leading to warped outcomes at Penn State. I had recently attended a Penn State Football game and personally witnessed the fact that Coach Paterno was already too elderly to coach the team. As one of the highest paid (if not the highest paid) public employee in the state, Paterno was taking all of the money and all the glory while depriving the younger men who were really doing the coaching of the career opportunities and recognition they deserved. Paterno was also engaged in nepotism as he was leveraging his power and position to place his son and other family members in the Penn State coaching staff and administration. At the time, Penn State had a retail office near an indoor food court in downtown Pittsburgh that I would often pass. This office was intended as an information site for students and families considering Penn State. One would think that such an office would contain photos of happy young college students walking across campus, professors teaching courses, or student athletes, actors, or musicians displaying their talents. Instead, the office was dominated by a larger than life 3-d cardboard cut out of 80+ year old Joe Paterno. I found all of this deeply troubling as I remembered the First Commandment in Exodus 20 – “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” When I raised my concerns about the apparent “Paterno cult-of-personality,” I was often greeted with aggressive counter-arguments or told that the “JoePa worship” was harmless.
So, I wrote my open letter with a respectful tone telling Paterno that he faced a great leadership opportunity. He could set a strong leadership example for his players, his coaching staff, and the people of Pennsylvania by resigning his public position of his own free will – the way George Washington resigned his commission as Commanding General of the American Army and later chose to leave the Presidency after only eight years when he could have been President for life. Or, like many lesser leaders in history, Paterno could greedily hold onto power well past his prime, damaging his past achievements and reputation. Of course, at the time I had no idea that Paterno was involved in the criminal cover up of serial pedohebephilic violence at Penn State. But regardless, I received an angry call from Paterno’s son-in-law and then Paterno ignored my open letter.
“JoePa’s” narcissism and disconnection from reality was on clear display again after the Sandusky scandal broke at the end of 2011. Even though the grand jury investigation determined that Penn State officials at least enabled Sandusky’s predatory behavior through inaction, Paterno TOLD the Board of Trustees that he would remain Head Football Coach and retire only at the end of the 2012 season. Paterno believed that even something as atrocious as Sandusky’s sexual abuse of little boys from broken families should not – or perhaps even could not – derail the “JoePa” legacy. Of course, he was wrong. The Board finally fired Paterno a few hours after his aggressive statement. Shortly after this I wrote: “one of the lessons of history is that arrogance like Paterno’s almost always leads to a tragic fall.” It’s an obvious lesson that human beings must learn over and over again. Unfortunately, as is often the case, Paterno’s deep desire to retain and even grow his personal power left many broken victims in its wake. And it is only now, with the release of Louis Freeh’s investigative report, that the Cult of Paterno has finally been broken. Remember, eight months ago after the Grand Jury indictment, thousands of students, famous former players, and some public leaders were still defending Paterno and criticizing the Penn State board of directors that was holding him accountable. Now, finally, no one is defending Paterno.
But let’s use the “Cult of Paterno” that gripped much of Pennsylvania as a lesson because there are other “cults of ideas” that prevent us from seeing and taking action regarding other uncomfortable truths in our society. Please indulge me while I focus on just one “cult of ideas” and opposing set of uncomfortable truths that are actually highlighted by the Sandusky – Penn State scandal.
The “cult of ideas” to which I am referring goes something like this. It is wrong to make judgments saying that one kind of family is better than another. No child should ever be called “illegitimate” because every situation in which a child is born is equal. Marriage is an old fashioned institution and not in touch with modern times. Sexual responsibility does not extend beyond “safe sex.” Expecting that male members of the human species should act like MEN and be fathers who support and take care of their “wives” and children and remain loyal to one woman who is their wife and the mother of their children is at best hopelessly unrealistic, and at worst reactionary, anti-feminist and discriminatory. I could go on, but you get the picture. This is a dominant “cult of ideas” to which tens of millions of Americans, as well as most of our liberal, university elite at places like Penn State, adhere with dogmatic energy.
Now, let’s examine the uncomfortable and documented truth. The young boys who were raped and victimized at and around Penn State were all participants in a program conveniently founded by Jerry Sandusky for boys without fathers called “The Second Mile.” Of course, Sandusky used this program to identify and manipulate his victims and their mothers. This is disgusting and outrageous, but even more outrageous is the fact that this whole gruesome situation is just one example of a broader set of irrefutable facts. Namely, THAT CHILDREN WHO DO NOT LIVE WITH THEIR BIOLOGICAL FATHER AND MOTHER, OR WHOSE BIOLOGICAL PARENTS ARE NOT MARRIED, ARE FAR MORE LIKELY TO SUFFER PHYSICAL OR SEXUAL ABUSE THAN CHILDREN WHO ARE PART OF INTACT FAMILIES WITH A FATHER AND MOTHER WHO ARE MARRIED.
Just as it was not popular to criticize Joe Paterno in years past, it is not politically correct or popular to point out these facts. However, when it comes to the state of the American family and American children, it is time to forget about being politically correct and talk about reality. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children who live with a single parent (or a single parent and a romantic partner) are 20 times more likely to be sexually abused than children who live with their married biological father and mother. TWENTY TIMES!! Even children who live with both biological parents are five times more likely to suffer sexual abuse if their parents are not married. FIVE TIMES!! According to the DHHS, the perpetrators can be the biological parent, foster parent, step-parent, adoptive parent, another person with legal custody, or someone with primary responsibility for the care of the child at the time of the abuse (Note that Jerry Sandusky is an adoptive father, a foster father, and ultimately an abuser of at risk children he brought into his home through his “Second Mile” charity).
Numerous and diverse studies (ranging from liberal Harvard University to the conservative Heritage Foundation), also show that children who grow up in broken homes are significantly more likely to abuse drugs, drop out of school, become pregnant or father a child as a teenager, or engage in criminal behavior. Regardless of race or ethnic background, single-mother families are six times more likely to be poor than families of married couples, and the Bureau of Justice reports that never-married mothers are four times as likely to suffer from domestic violence as married women. Conversely, children who are raised in households with both of their biological parents present have a much better chance at both short-term and long-term success. America had much stronger marriages and families when it was much poorer. The data indicates that marriage and family breakup is causing economic problems, rather than the opposite.
And yet, in spite of these conclusive statistics, government policies from taxes to welfare continue to discourage marriage and government data reveals that marriage rates among poor AND middle class households continue to fall — and, more children than ever before are being born outside of marriage. In fact, according to the U.S. Census bureau, 41% of all children born in the United States are now born to unwed mothers. Yes, you read that correctly, today in America, 41% of ALL children are now born to unwed mothers. In fact, a new term has been incorporated into American English for the “males” involved in conceiving these children. Since there is no expectation that these young “men” will provide for, nurture, coach, protect, and mentor these children, they are no longer called “fathers.” They are simply referred to as “baby dads.”
As I discussed on my radio program this past weekend (listen here), family breakdown has truly become THE social crisis of the 21st century, driving poverty, illiteracy, child abuse, drug abuse, youth gangs and a myriad of other problems. And anyone who really cares about American children or the future of our society should stop fighting the old battles of the 20th century and start focusing on the really hard work of re-establishing marriage and parental responsibility throughout our society – at every income level and among every racial and ethnic group. And this will not just require a change of governmental leadership; it will require a change of culture.
In addition to his report on the child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, Louis Freeh recommended that Penn State examine the entire culture that allowed this to happen. He stated, “The goal should be to create a more open and compliant culture which protects children and not adults who abuse them.” Of course, Freeh is right. But, we must also use this moment in history to re-examine, re-evaluate and change a broader American culture that is enabling — even cheering — the break-up of the American family, and creating devastating results for our children and our future.
I know that this post is not politically correct, but just like when I wrote publicly to Joe Paterno in January of 2009, I believe to the core of my being that I am speaking the truth. And if you are offended by what I am saying, then please join Joe Paterno’s son-in-law in sending me angry emails or leaving angry messages on my voice mail. I assure you that I will ignore them.