Many couldn't help but notice the painfully clear irony in the quiet removal of a bronze statue erected in celebration of a football icon this weekend.
That a bronze likeness of Joe Paterno, regarded with almost religious reverence on the campus and environs of Penn State University a few short months ago, could be shrouded with blankets and trundled off by a forklift away from prying eyes is an almost unimaginable occurrence for many in that state.
For me, at least, the symbolism of the moment was stark and vivid in its clarity. A likeness of a man revered for his winning ways and work ethic is brought down after it is determined that he and others were complicit in protecting an underling who was systematically molesting children for years, often in the very halls of power these men walked themselves.
"The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of (Jerry) Sandusky's child victims," former FBI Director Louis Freeh wrote in a report summarizing his investigation of the Penn State scandal. "As the Grand Jury similarly noted in its presentment, there was no 'attempt to investigate, to identify Victim 2, or to protect that child or any others from similar conduct except as related to preventing its re-occurrence on University property.'"
And this is not the first time this has happened. History is rife with instances where mindless adulation and the cult of personality has been allowed to flourish, and those enjoying their roles as "living legends," or "spiritual leaders" or "financial geniuses" have only much later been exposed as charlatans and brought down to earth. It is that the culture that supports these people is allowed to stand that I find so disturbing -- that coaches, priests, captains of industry are considered above reproach and not subject to questioning because they a.) put butts in the stadium seats on Sunday, b.) are close to God, or c.) give large amounts of Wall Street money to charity.
That people would willfully work to protect the coach, the COO or the principal "because we have to present a united front" or "because X is really a good person who doesn't deserve this kind of attention" is also especially troubling.
In the case of Paterno, the fact that his university's attempt to make right a massive wrong perpetrated against so many took place after the man's death only muddies his involvement in the cover up -- and passes on a massive dose of shame and vilification to his surviving family members. This strikes me as the truly unfair part of this -- that so many would like to see the legacy of the criminal protected while the innocent are allowed to endure the questions and suspicious glances.
Justice, we know, works slowly... and sometimes only after those responsible for heinous crimes are beyond the physical grasp of the law -- or caring. Instead of being called out for their crimes at or near the time they a perpetrated, a convenient forgetfulness comes into play. More often than not justice appears on the doorstep of the accused well after their deaths, or after the prison camp commandant living quietly in Argentina has succumbed to old age and merciful loss of memory.
If justice is lucky and swift enough to find those complicit in horrific crimes, those with the warrants are often asked by those they seek why they didn't arrive sooner. "Where have you been?" some have said when justice finally comes calling. And questioned as to why the vile nature of what they have done never worked on their conscience or drove them to confess to family, friends, or local authorities a common refrain has been: "I wanted to, but no one asked."
We are reminded of the smug villainy of Bernie Madoff, sparring with SEC investigators and growing bolder when he realized he could bluff them out of asking too many questions -- regaling them instead with stories about his ascension to status as bond trading guru. Later, he admitted to having meetings with investigators where he waited for the handcuffs to come out, thought they had tumbled to his billion dollar ponzi... and couldn't believe it when they got up and walked out of his office.
"I thought it was the endgame, over," Madoff said after he was finally arrested. "... It would've been easy for them to see. If you're looking at a Ponzi scheme, it's the first thing you do."
But no one asked. No one questioned. And the powers that be, while outwardly ashamed by the actions of the God-like among them, quietly erected barriers and bluffs and obfuscation to ensure that the institution remained safe... and protected.
That, in my opinion, is a crime. Pure and simple. And one that loss of a year's worth of revenue from football ticket sales ($60 million) will not be able to put right.