Following the law does not absolve a person of ethical responsibilities to society. Specifically, reporting a crime is not enough if there is an absence of action and consequence. There is an expected level of integrity from everybody, but more notably, the people whom the general public holds in high regard.
The events of the Penn State scandal provide a perfect example to contrast the moral principle to the legal process. Significant lapses in judgment should not and be tolerated.
Joe Paterno has been on the coaching staff of the Penn State Nittany Lions football team for 61 years, and head coach for 46 years. In 2002, however, he made a major error with a lack of action against crimes of which he had been made aware.
Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was seen engaging in sexual activity with a boy around 10 years old in the team locker room. Paterno completed his legal responsibility to report this to the athletic director, Tim Curley, the next day.
When Curley and Gary Schultz, senior vice president for finance and business, decided not to pursue criminal justice for the victim, however, Paterno should have been morally obligated to step in and resolve the situation.
Sandusky was arrested last week on 40 criminal counts of molesting eight different boys. He was released on $100,000 bail and awaits a Dec. 7 court hearing.
Curley and Schultz have already stepped down. Paterno was fired on Nov. 9. These three men deserved to lose their positions, even Paterno – a well-respected and admired coach whose flawless reputation has become tainted by the scandal.
While Paterno did nothing wrong legally, Curley and Schultz are to be investigated. It may be extreme to say that what all three did is criminal, but their actions – withholding information and turning a blind eye – approach obstruction of justice.
It is appalling that Sandusky, after such an act being witnessed, could go seven years without facing criminal investigation. It took a young teen stepping up after four years and reporting being touched inappropriately by Sandusky for this to become public knowledge.
All of Sandusky's actions from 2002 to 2009 could have been prevented if Paterno, Curley and Schultz had fulfilled their moral obligations to report him. Paterno did nothing illegal, but his significant moral transgression resulted, justly, in him being fired from a position which he has held for 46 years. Unfortunately, the victims of abuse who Paterno, Curley and Schultz could have helped nine years ago don't get to erase their experiences.