The scattered evidence that Spanier and his colleagues were thinking first about bad publicity, second about Sandusky, and hardly at all about the children involved, goes back to 1998 and continues up to the moment they lost their jobs. That, of course, followed the indictment of Sandusky for dozens of counts of sexual abuse in 2011. He was convicted of 45 counts last month. Through his lawyers, Spanier still avows that he was never told about the 2001 incident in which assistant coach Mike McQueary said he saw Sandusky rape a boy in the locker room showers. It’s hard to believe him and in some ways it hardly matters.
What comes through, even in the elliptical emails of an administrator who knows better than to write too much down, is their concern about negative attention, legal liability, and pesky oversight committees. [emphasis added] Schultz’s handwritten notes from 1998, when he first heard about Sandusky showering with a young boy on Penn State’s campus, ask the following haunting questions: “Is this opening of pandora’s box? … [O]ther children?” Freeh believes that Schultz, Spanier, Paterno, and Curley cared more about their own reputations than the answers to those questions—that “to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the University … hid critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the University’s Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large.”
This scandal and this ruling is a disturbing reminder that many of us would like to claim that we would do something different. Some of us, most surely, would. But considering the reputation of an institution and its leaders more precious than the exploitation and abuse of people is obviously always going to be a temptation, a temptation that too many people still succumb to and will succumb to in the future.
When plausible deniability and the preservation of prestige trumps answering hard questions and seeking to be accountable for decisions that affect the lives of others, then we will see cases like that of Sandunsky. We will see institutions scrambling to protect their reputations and the reputations of their stars above anyone. We will discover obfuscation, suppression of information, deceit, and fabrication, all in the name of a good name and a good story. We may even hear or read people say that no one, no matter how grievously they claim they have been hurt, ultimately has any right to say or do anything that would harm the reputation of a venerable institution. The story and its players and the institution about which the story is told are so worth preserving that sacrifices have to be made. It's all too easy to condemn this when it happens in one realm but to defend it when it happens in another.
Something that has been attested time and again is that institutions can work very hard to protect a peace that is illusory. Yet despite the reality that the peace the institutions seek to preserve is a sham those who speak about the sham can find not only deaf ears but hostility.
Here are a couple of justifiably legendary fusillades against the kind of peace that is not worth keeping because it is not real peace. Some people may instantly recognize these as having been canonized. ;-)
This is what the Lord Almighty says:
“Cut down the trees
and build siege ramps against Jerusalem.
This city must be punished;
it is filled with oppression.
As a well pours out its water,
so she pours out her wickedness.
Violence and destruction resound in her;
her sickness and wounds are ever before me.
Take warning, Jerusalem,
or I will turn away from you
and make your land desolate
so no one can live in it.”
This is what the Lord Almighty says:
“Let them glean the remnant of Israel
as thoroughly as a vine;
pass your hand over the branches again,
like one gathering grapes.”
To whom can I speak and give warning?
Who will listen to me?
Their ears are closed
so they cannot hear.
The word of the Lord is offensive to them;
they find no pleasure in it.
But I am full of the wrath of the Lord,
and I cannot hold it in.
“Pour it out on the children in the street
and on the young men gathered together;
both husband and wife will be caught in it,
and the old, those weighed down with years.
Their houses will be turned over to others,
together with their fields and their wives,
when I stretch out my hand
against those who live in the land,”
declares the Lord.
“From the least to the greatest,
all are greedy for gain;
prophets and priests alike,
all practice deceit.
They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
when there is no peace.
Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?
No, they have no shame at all;
they do not even know how to blush.
So they will fall among the fallen;
they will be brought down when I punish them,"
says the Lord.
Then I said,
“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,
you rulers of Israel.
Should you not embrace justice,
you who hate good and love evil;
who tear the skin from my people
and the flesh from their bones;
who eat my people’s flesh,
strip off their skin
and break their bones in pieces;
who chop them up like meat for the pan,
like flesh for the pot? ”
Then they will cry out to the Lord,
but he will not answer them.
At that time he will hide his face from them
because of the evil they have done.
This is what the Lord says:
“As for the prophets
who lead my people astray,
they proclaim ‘peace’
if they have something to eat,
but prepare to wage war against anyone
who refuses to feed them.
Therefore night will come over you, without visions,
and darkness, without divination.
The sun will set for the prophets,
and the day will go dark for them.
The seers will be ashamed
and the diviners disgraced.
They will all cover their faces
because there is no answer from God.”
But as for me, I am filled with power,
with the Spirit of the Lord,
and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression,
to Israel his sin.
Hear this, you leaders of Jacob,
you rulers of Israel,
who despise justice
and distort all that is right;
who build Zion with bloodshed,
and Jerusalem with wickedness.
Her leaders judge for a bribe,
her priests teach for a price,
and her prophets tell fortunes for money.
Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say,
“Is not the Lord among us?
No disaster will come upon us.”
Therefore because of you,
Zion will be plowed like a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble,
the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.