Cowardice and Collusion at Penn State


In March 1964, New York City was rocked by the grisly murder of Kitty Genovese.  Returning home from her job at a local sports bar, Genovese was attacked in the parking lot of her apartment complex and stabbed in the back while fleeing from her assailant.  The murderer later returned to find Genovese collapsed in an exterior hallway of the complex (she was slowly suffocating from a punctured lung), and there he stabbed her several more times before raping her lifeless body. 

According to multiple news accounts, numbers of people witnessed the brutal attack on Genovese but did nothing to intervene – or even call the police – giving rise to what is now known in some quarters as “the Genovese Syndrome.” 

As details of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal continue to emerge, it is clear that the Genovese Syndrome has plagued the campus at Penn State for years, resulting in the systematic sexual abuse of young boys and the shielding of a sexual predator from accountability before the law.  The newly released grand jury report is a damning indictment of the people and institution at the heart of the scandal – people who had ample time and opportunity to act but did nothing.  The report is a chilling illustration of how dysfunctional our moral barometers have become, and raises more questions than answers:
How is it that an athletic, 6′ 4″ young man witnesses an aging sexual predator sodomizing a 10-year-old boy only to slink way and call his daddy for advice rather than acting to stop the assault right then and there? 
How is it that his father advises him to report the incident to the coach, rather than the authorities?
How is it that that coach contacts the Athletic Director, rather than the police?
How is it that a custodial staffer who witnesses the perpetrator performing oral sex on a child doesn’t call the cops? 
These bizarre and infuriating questions go on and on up the chain of command at Penn State, to the University President himself. 
What can possibly account for such apathy and inaction in the face of the victimization of young children?  Have we become so consumed with our own self interest, with the interest of our institutions, that we can just ignore the victims of these human tragedies?  Have we become so jealous of our own “comfort zones,” that we’d rather see a child rapist walk free than take the trouble to get involved?  What does that say about us as individuals?  As a culture? 
At least eight lives have been scarred forever because not one adult had the courage to shout stop, or yell “what the hell do you think you are doing?”  We raise our children to believe that adults have their best interests at heart, are there to protect and care for them.  This is particularly true of authority figures such as coaches.  Not only were these boys victimized by a man they looked to for guidance, they were betrayed by other adults who had the power to put a stop to the abuse but didn’t.  And why?  Because the witnesses feared for their jobs?  The University’s reputation?  The bottom line of the football program?
It is a sad testament to the character of the Penn State organization and its students that the main concern expressed in the immediate aftermath of these revelations has been the fate of Coach Paterno’s football legacy.  Where are the protests on behalf of the victims?  Where are the tar and feathers?  Where are the adults who were supposed to protect our children?  The apathy and self-centeredness that has been exposed here is breathtaking and should cause us to engage in serious moral and spiritual introspection.

It has been said that America’s universities represent the future of our society.  If that’s true, and if Penn State is representative of other universities, then may God help us all.


About Author

Kenneth L. Connor is the Chairman of the Center for a Just Society, 1220 L St. NW, Suite 100-371, Washington, DC 20005. Email: and website:

  • Mr. Connor is right. If this had happened 100 years ago, the perpetrator probably would have been strung up and the rest of the adults involved run out of town. I suppose something like that is happening through the legal system and with the resignations (and, hopefully, the lawsuits and the drying up of money) but a little frontier justice would be a lot more morally satisfying.

  • Tarheel

    This article makes you think. Have we as Catholics forgotten what Christ taught us all? That we are to love one another. Is not defending someone from harm an act of love?

    When I teach Child Protection at my parish each year as part of CCD, one of the things I teach them is that if thy feel threatened by the actions of an adult then they should scream or do something to attract attention. We as parents, teachers, catechists, and responsible adults need to teach our children and those entrusted to our care, about the evils that are out there. we need to teach them what is right and wrong. And how to recognize a bad situation.

  • The “land of the free and the home of the brave” is transmutating into the impious domain of sodomites, baby killers, cowards and greedy corporations. We’re so courageous that we use drones to fight wars with Third World countries.

  • goral

    You’ve hit the target, Robert, but not the bulls-eye.
    Who would prosecute the “perpetrators”
    to the full extent of the law were they to discriminate against Sandusky because of his protected perversion?
    Who is prosecuting and jailing the baby protectors if they interfere with the science of pre-born murder?
    Who is facilitating the fine art of – you finance my campaign and I’ll make sure the money finds it’s way back to your pocket?

    I’ll give you one guess. It’s a party of corrupt monkeys for whom evil doesn’t exist and it doesn’t start with the letter “R” – Those would be the cowards.

    In my own state of CT, the governor has circumvented the legislature and issued an executive order to organize all babysitting services. Yes, that includes grandmas.
    Right now union goons from out of state are knocking on house doors and intimidating the babysitters to sign on to the union.

    If you guessed the political party above, the same answer applies here.
    The opposition? well, they’re doing what cowards do best.
    We might as well call the monkeys Mene, Tekel, Peres and apply the prophecy to the once great “land of the free and home of the brave”.