Not only should we not stop talking about the Penn State scandal because a new report of child abuse is made every ten seconds resulting in over 3.3 million cases a year, but also because this scandal (along with countless others) was regretfully fueled by leaders simply playing by the rules, and following orders.
This act of passive leadership (if you even want to call it leadership), allowed the alleged abuse to persist from 1994-2009 is only reinforced by the current Pennsylvania mandatory reporter law that determines:
“staff members of a school (public or private) are responsible for immediately notifying the person in charge of the institution of any abuse, and then it is that person who has the responsibility and legal obligation to make a report by telephone or writing within 48 hours to ChildLine or The Department of Public Welfare.”
According to this law, given Mike McQueary’s subservient status as a graduate student at the time he witnessed the abuse, he was not in a position of ‘power’ and therefore not responsible for informing the authorities about what he witnessed. According to this law, he did his part by going directly to his supervisor.
But how long should the abused wait before a leader comes to their rescue? In this case, it took over fifteen years. I applaud Pennsylvania’s Governor Corbett’s recent attempts for an amendment because inherently within the mandatory reporter law as it is currently written, witnesses are allowed to “pass the buck” as my family says.
The law implies that McQuery wasn’t in a position of power, but since when do you need an official title to speak out against injustice? Should I not call the police when I see a lady being robbed because I’m not an undercover cop?
Instead of looking out for the victims of the abuse, the Penn State leadership chose to ‘follow’ the rules. In this situation, leadership didn’t look like making the tough call on a fourth down, but demonstrating to the world the importance of prioritizing justice over potentially flawed protocol. Athletes will tell you just how often you can gain invaluable life lessons while on the field. The Penn State leadership chose to learn this one the hard way.
A part of leadership is making the tough choice in the face of convenience. I’m not inclined to believe that Paterno and his staff truly condone child abuse but if actions speak louder than words – what else do we have to consider?
Life will give you plenty of chances to change the lives of others. It might be leading your team to a Rose Bowl, or mentoring a child in your neighborhood. While at the intersection of ‘following the rules’ and demonstrating extraordinary leadership I hope you choose the latter. If nothing else, this Penn State scandal has taught us that it won’t be championships that determine your legacy but your leadership off the field.
Jovian Zayne is a writer, photographer and occasional radio co-host in New York City. Jovian also works with Janelle Monáe & The Wondaland Arts Society along with Teach for America. Read more from Jovian on her personal blog Word Up Haay! and join her on twitter via @jovizi for laughs, encouragement and your daily dose of quick wit.