The Wages of Cowardice

David French on the Penn State child molestation scandal.

It was cowardly for a 6′4″ graduate assistant to witness the rape of a child by an older man and not only take no action to stop it but also not even call the police. It is a symbol of extended adolescence — no, extended infancy — that instead of doing anything to help a child in distress, he called his father . . . acting not like a man but like a child in distress himself.

It was cowardly for a college football legend to do the absolute bare minimum required by law (if he even did that) in response to contemporaneous reports that a child had been abused in the coach’s own facility. I’m sorry Coach Paterno, but the call to your Athletic Director did nothing to defend the defenseless, and when you saw that nothing happened as a result of that call, it was your absolute moral obligation to take action.

It was cowardly for an athletic director to hear reports of abuse and do . . . nothing. The way of the coward is to seek self-preservation and the preservation of your friends and cronies. The coward keeps the gravy train rolling and revels in the accolades even as he knows terrible truths — truths he will never, ever have the courage to reveal.

The cowardice of some was no doubt motivated by a sincere desire to protect the reputation of the university and its football program; to preserve the house that JoePa built. And yet, as I noted yesterday, the failure to take immediate action has, in fact, done more to tarnish the PSU football program and Paterno’s legacy than would have a determined effort to protect children from the predator in their midst. It may even hit the university’s credit rating. Placing the welfare of the football program ahead of the Sandusky’s victims protected neither.

Moral courage is often it’s own reward. As C.S.Lewis commented, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point.” That should be enough. But in case it is not, these sad and tragic events are a lesson in the wages of cowardice. In failing to protect the interests of Sandusky’s victims, these men also failed to protect their own.

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