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The Future of Penn State: Retribution or Redemption?

Paternostatue.jpg

Waving goodbye? Iconic statue of legendary coach Joe Paterno has been removed from Happy Valley.

The retribution against Penn State has begun. This week, the NCAA announced a series of weapons-grade sanctions against Penn State:

• A $60 million fine paid to programs to prevent child sexual abuse;

• A four-year football post-season ban;

• Slashing the number of scholarships awarded for four years; and

• Vacating 111 wins from 1998 to 2011, a hammer-blow to the Paterno legacy.

It will probably take the Nittany Lions the better part of a decade to recover from this setback. Have innocent football players been hurt? Absolutely. But the NCAA is not to blame for that.

Instead, blame a monster named Jerry Sandusky. Blame those who knew about his crimes and covered them up -- Joe Paterno, university president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz. According to the investigation report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, these men "repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse." Men who should have known better sacrificed innocent young souls on the altar of Penn State football.

'Coaches and university officials need to understand that if you protect a pedophile instead of protecting children, there'll be hell to pay.'

So retribution is in order. Coaches and university officials need to understand that if you protect a pedophile instead of protecting children, there'll be hell to pay. If you think you can protect your sports program by throwing children under the team bus, think again. When the truth comes out, your sports program will suffer shock and awe.

But along with the retribution, shouldn't there also be redemption? Absolutely -- and Penn State is seeking to redeem itself.

Over the weekend, the iconic statue of Joe Paterno was removed from the campus. The university has announced plans to pay for counseling for Sandusky's victims, and to become a leader in research and outreach in the field of child welfare. This fall, the university will host a national conference on sexual abuse.

Most important, Penn State is joining forces with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape to establish a new Center for the Protection of Children at the Hershey Medical Center. The university is off to a good start. It has begun the process of accepting legal responsibility and making financial restitution.

But real redemption can only come from moral restitution. To perform moral restitution, the university should make sure that its new Center for the Protection of Children becomes the premier institution of its kind. It should house a treatment and counseling center, a research center attracting top international experts on sexual abuse, a research library, and more.

And here's my personal message to the new Center for the Protection of Children: If you'd like to have the insights of an abuse survivor, call me. I'd be happy to help in any way I can. My first suggestion: Focus on educating the public on these issues:

• Improved ways to spot pedophiles and remove them from schools, churches and youth programs;

• Improved treatment for victims suffering trauma due to molestation;

• An improved legal system, in which perpetrators can be more effectively apprehended, prosecuted, and separated from society; and

• Improved awareness, so the public will understand the need to protect children, not perpetrators.

One of the lessons of this tragedy is that people who seem otherwise intelligent often exhibit abysmal judgment in pedophile cases. Penn State is not alone. We've seen this same "protect-the-predator" mindset in the Catholic Church, where senior clergy shuffled known child molesters from parish to parish.

And we've seen the "protect-the-predator" mindset at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, where a male teacher was arrested in January for unspeakable acts against children. Many people knew what he was doing -- and they looked the other way or covered it up.

For some reason, people almost always protect the adult instead of the child. They protect their "precious" institution instead of the precious innocence of a child. Clearly, our society has a lot to learn about protecting children from pedophiles. Penn State can redeem itself by publicizing the lessons it has learned from this tragedy.

No one can restore the lost innocence of Jerry Sandusky's victims -- but the university can help prevent future victims. Though Penn State has much to be ashamed of today, it can redeem itself in the future and become a proud institution once more.

[ATTENTION: If you know of a child who is being abused, call the police immediately -- then call the ChildHelp Hotline at 1-800-4ACHILD (1-800-422-4453). The ChildHelp counselor will answer your questions and direct you to support services.]

Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan. He is a political consultant, founder and chairman of The Reagan Group, and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. He is the author of "The New Reagan Revolution" (St. Martin's Press). Visit his website at www.reagan.com.  

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