The college football world – and truly, anyone who has even heard of college football – was shocked and dismayed at the allegations of child molestation by Jerry Sandusky, cover up and perjury, and firing of Penn State coach Joe Paterno. If accusations are found to be true, former assistant coach Sandusky committed as vile and unethical a crime as one can imagine. But perhaps as disconcerting is the apparent lack of escalation that took place, the failure to act, to react in a fashion befitting the crime. The result is a damaged and wounded university, the tarnishing of an otherwise exemplary career, and innocent victims left voiceless and powerless.
JoePa’s demise could be seen as a failure in the system to adequately escalate an incident to the proper channels. We don’t yet know if there was true cover up involved, or an attempt to circumvent the system to protect the guilty as well as reputations. The fact remains that serious allegations were never brought to the proper authorities.
Protocol and due diligence are required to make the system work. Any ethics & compliance initiative is worthless unless you can trust the protocols and the systems. We preach about this as tone from the top, but it begs the question, is Paterno guilty of anything more than a failure to trust the system and report up the chain? “Moral responsibility” is outlined in black and white, but if you think about all the possible facets at work, you’re liable to see lots of gray. Paterno himself said, “With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”
Edward Queen, who directors an ethics leadership program at Emory University in Atlanta, wrote a poignant piece for CNN entitled “The Ethical Lesson of the Penn State Scandal.” Queen writes, “When we place our loyalty, our commitment, in the service of individuals, organizations, or money we already have started down the path of corruption. Such misplaced loyalty, whether to a colleague in a hospital, a comrade in battle, or a stock trader on the floor, can only lead to error, wrongdoing, and evil.
“For the rest of us, we need also to look inward. As fans, investors, administrators and co-workers, how have we furthered this reality? Do we really desire the NCAA to clamp down on abuses, even if it is our team? As surgeons, do we report the incompetent or drunken anesthesiologist? As individuals whose wealth increases, do we really care about the nature of the stock trades or the processes? How we answer those questions determines the nature of our society.
“Let us honor the coach who reports boosters slipping money to players, the co-worker who reports malfeasance, and the soldier who decries abuse and illegal orders. For if we do not, we ourselves must bear the guilt.”