Why Penn State’s Sandusky Is Not A Grown Up

Like many expats – even journalists like myself – there are certain scandals that erupt in American politics which you choose to ignore, hoping they will go away. After all, there’s only so much room in your brain to process political developments on two continents (plus the rest of the world) at once.

And so you kind of quietly take note of them in the back of your head – thinking “hmmm…I really should find out what all the fuss is about” – until one day, the news just explodes into your RSS feed and you realize that you can remain ignorant no longer.

So it was for me with the recent Penn State scandal – which, for non-American readers – concerns one Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach who has been charged with more than 40 criminal accounts of sexual abuse of minors, which involved eight boys over a period of 15 years. Sandusky has plead not guilty to the charges.

Sandusky’s alleged crimes have become non-stop headlines for the past week or so in the U.S. This is not only because of the magnitude of the charges at hand, but also because they brought about the precipitous resignation of America’s most famous college football coach – Joe Paterno – who stepped down from his post one day before what would have been his last home game of his 46-year career. Paterno was edged out for having looked the other way while Sandusky allegedly molested the boys.

Yesterday, Sandusky gave his first interview – via phone – with NBC’s premier sports journalist, Bob Costas. It’s hard to imagine what Sandusky – or his lawyer – were thinking in granting such an interview. Were they hoping to repair his public image? As Costas says near the end of their nine-minute long conversation: “You realize that for many people, you aren’t just a criminal…you’re a monster.”

Still, if you can bear it – and it isn’t pleasant – do have a listen. Most interesting to me was the way Sandusky answers the question put to him around the eight-minute mark, when Costas asks “Are you sexually attracted to boys?” You can almost hear the verbal somersaults in Sandusky’s reply.

For the purposes of this blog, however, the question that most intrigued me was when Costas asks Sandusky what he most regrets about the entire affair, to which he responds: “I shouldn’t have showered with those kids.”

He’s right. He shouldn’t have.

I don’t mean that sarcastically; I mean it sincerely. We can debate whether or not pedophilia is a crime, a disease or some mixture of the two. To my mind, Sandusky’s crime wasn’t being sexually attracted to young boys. I’m willing to believe that he couldn’t change that about himself.

His crime was allowing himself to be in a physical space that allowed him to act upon those urges. It’s no different that an alcoholic going to a bar. Or someone who’s tempted to cheat on their spouse hanging out on match.com.

Except that the consequences of Sandusky’s actions were, of course, vastly more damaging.

Adulthood is about making choices. And accepting the consequences of those choices.

We all make bad decisions from time to time. But if you’re lucky, most of the hurt and pain that flows from the bad choices you make redounds to you. That’s how you learn.

So, sorry, Mr. Sandusky. You failed the basic grown-up test. And sadly, it looks like there weren’t too many grown ups around you either.


2010 Penn State vs. Youngstown State-16 by Mike Pettigano via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

  • Reply steven germain

    November 15, 2011, 9:51 pm

    Not sure that your statement “It’s like an alcoholic going to a bar” is right. It is true that there may be some similarities amongst compulsions. But in going to the bar no crime is committed. The alcoholic needs treatment not jail (unless while drunk a crime is committed in which case he/she needs treatment and faces legal repercussions). Sandusky may need treatment as well but he has committed a crime (I am presuming innocence until proven guilty but am assuming he is guilty). Many addicts also come to treatment via the legal system. Sandusky needed help and it is sad that the people around him and those responsible legally and morally to report his behavior did nothing. There is a crime in that too.

    • Reply delialloyd

      November 15, 2011, 9:55 pm

      Yes, I agree Steven. That’s why I said “but the consequences were far, far worse.” The analogy was only meant to be that if you have a problem and are aware of it, you need to take yourself out of harm’s way. Ditto those around you. Thanks for weighing in.

      • Reply steven

        November 16, 2011, 1:04 pm

        I know you meant it well and I liked your post. I just get a little sensitive around lumping the disease of addiction (with all it’s negative consequences) into the same category as clearly intentional criminally ciulpbale acts because in my opinion when it comes to addiction the shame and guilt and stigma that surround dependence on drugs and alcohol are already harsh enough. Insight into addictive behavior is diminished by minimizing. By the way, think about how hard it is for an alcoholic to stay out of a bar, there is one on every corner, at every game, in every commercial, at every party, at every meal, on every date…

        • Reply delialloyd

          November 16, 2011, 1:17 pm

          Fair enough, Steven, and I didn’t take it at all personally. I think that there is a line to be drawn and these are not the same kind of behaviors. (Interestingly, Roger Ebert was just called out on his blog for making a similar sort of analogy between the sort of lust exhibited in a movie called Damage and the Sandusky affair. Like me he was trying to draw a parallel that didn’t quite work, though the intention was valid.) Thanks for your thoughtful remarks. One does need to be careful with these matters and I fully agree on the nature of addiction, having seen it up close in several close friends and family members.

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