Our society has a maddening and deplorable habit of cheapening legitimate claims by aggrieved parties. Too many cases are likened to games, in which someone “plays the victim” or “plays” assorted “cards” (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.).
A popular version involves blaming the media for your own mess. Another is blaming the casualties that you caused. Sadly, when a number of culprits cloak themselves in innocence and the dishonorable claim to be disadvantaged, we become calloused to true sufferers of abused and misused power.
Take, for instance, Penn State president Eric Barron. He makes it sound like the university has been oppressed, not the dozens of youths assaulted by convicted child molester and former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
“Unfortunately, we can’t control the 24/7 news cycle, and the tendency of some individuals in social media and the blogosphere to rush to judgment,” Barron wrote in an open letter Sunday after a judge’s ruling put the scandal in headlines again. “But I have had enough of the continued trial of the institution in various media. We have all had enough.”
If that was the case, if Penn State really were tired of Sandusky besmirching the school’s name, it shouldn’t have sued its insurance company three years ago. Instead of eating the millions of dollars in settlement claims as it knowingly keeping a pedophile on the payroll, the school opened itself to further scrutiny by trying to pass the bill to Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association Insurance Co.
The galling litigation has brought the spotlight back to Penn State and the glare isn’t pretty. A school spokesperson told The Associated Press last week that legal settlements with Sandusky’s accusers cover alleged incidents dating to 1971. That’s 40 years before he was arrested.
Again, late coach Joe Paterno has become a focal point. The insurers cited an allegation that a boy told Paterno in 1976 that he was molested by Sandusky. CNN ran a lengthy article this week on a now 60-year-old man who said he was molested in 1971. NBC reported that as many as six assistant coaches allegedly witnessed “inappropriate behavior” between Sandusky and boys dating to the 1970s.
What Paterno knew and when he knew it are of great concern to the protectors of his legacy. Sandusky is serving time for abusing 10 boys in the 1990s, but Judge Gary Glazer’s writing in the insurance case suggests two decades of prior knowledge existed.
In Barron’s view, the latest revelations don’t serve as illumination. They’re just more character assignation of the school and deceased coach.
“I am appalled by the rumor, innuendo and rush to judgment that have accompanied the media stories surrounding these allegations,” he wrote. “All too often in our society, people are convicted in the court of public opinion, only to find a different outcome when all the facts are presented.”
In many of these cases, however, all the facts never reached a court of law because the defendant chose to settle.
Settlements aren’t admissions of guilt or proof of innocence. But it’s reasonable to think a problem exists if an employee continually faces allegations that lead to 32 settlements – about one every 15 months on average – totaling nearly $100 million.
“This case arises out of a series of heinous crimes perpetrated against a multitude of children over a 40-year period,” Glazer wrote in his ruling, while acknowledging there’s no evidence that Penn State’s executive officers were aware of the 40-year-old allegations.
Barron was hired in 2014, but he’s acting just like his predecessor, Graham Spanier, who along with two other former university officials are awaiting trial on criminal charges for their handling of the Sandusky scandal. Penn State and Paterno aren’t the injured parties in this case, even if they’re viewed interchangeably.
The school knew something wasn’t right about Sandusky. Paterno didn’t want to know. Barron’s attempt to shift focus onto Paterno’s awareness and deflect the school’s well-earned criticism is pathetic.
“The two allegations related to knowledge by Coach Paterno are unsubstantiated and unsupported by any evidence other than a claim by an alleged victim,” Barron wrote. “They date from the 1970s. Coach Paterno is not alive to refute them. His family has denied them.”
Too bad Penn State can’t deny it has paid Sandusky-related settlements since the 1970s. That’s the real story, the fact that repulses outsiders while insiders remain blindly loyal.
The school would’ve been better served by paying off cases from its deep pocket and keeping the matters quiet. Trying to make the insurance company foot the bill has cost Penn State more than it bargained for.
The school is a victim, sure.
A victim of its own blatant delinquency and misplaced frugality.