Why Joe Paterno Didn't Call the Police

As a Penn Stater, I am angry.

As a man, I am embarrassed.

As a Men’s Health editor, I am curious.

You’ve heard the allegations: In 2002, now–assistant coach Mike McQueary witnessed former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, then 58, sexually violating a 10-year-old boy in the coaches’ locker room shower. McQueary told his father as well as head coach Joe Paterno, who passed the buck to athletic director Tim Curley, university vice president Gary Schultz, and university president Graham Spanier. Sandusky’s “punishment”: He wouldn’t be permitted to bring kids onto campus anymore.

If the allegations are true, this much is clear: They’re all at fault. McQueary knew exactly what he witnessed and didn't call 911. (Why hasn't he been fired yet?) The others either knew and are covering it up, or didn't ask the right questions. 

Here’s what isn’t clear: At least six men could have called 911. Not one did. Why?

Why didn't anyone call the police?

It starts with the obvious: “People don’t want to be pulled into conflicts with others,” says Roy Lubit, M.D., Ph.D., a forensic psychiatrist in New York who treats victims of sexual abuse. “They especially want to avoid potentially difficult situations in the future, like going to court. So they tell themselves it’s not their business, or they cannot be sure what is going on, or convince themselves that someone else will take care of it.”

But this situation is more complicated than that. “Organizations are also very self-protective,” adds Dr. Lubit. “The number-one rule is, Don’t embarrass the organization. Whistle blowers are often treated very badly.” 

Okay, but Sandusky wasn’t caught stealing Cap’n Crunch from the dining hall. And these are, by all accounts, good men who know right from wrong—and had very little motivation to protect Sandusky, who’d retired three years before. I met Tim Curley when I worked in the Sports Information Office as an undergrad. Great guy. Paterno has five kids of his own, and made mentoring young men his life’s work. Doesn’t seem to have an evil bone in his body. McQueary, Schultz, Spanier . . . they all seem like good, honest men.

More Men's Health: 8 Lessons All Dads Should Teach Their Kids

“The human mind has the capacity to spin anything to suit what we want to believe,” Dr. Lubit goes on. “So you make excuses to yourself. ‘There must be some other explanation.’ ‘He just made a mistake.’ ‘He’s helping those kids more than hurting them.’ ‘He’d never do it again now that he’s been caught.’” Psychologists call this motivated bias—the tendency to believe what’s convenient to believe.

Another factor: cognitive dissonance. Sandusky seems like a great guy. “That made it harder to believe he was doing bad things,” says Dr. Lubit.

Next: When Good Men Do Nothing >>

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