Debate Left, 7/31

Explaining the Inexplicable

By Jolene Pohl

There is only one way to prevent future Penn State incidents and that is to create a system of transparency. The psychological explanations for why the university board did not take stronger action to stop Sandusky are quite simple. The bystander effect kicked in, which means when faced with the unbelievable, disturbing and sickening events that Sandusky was accused of committing, those who were in charge of making a decision fell short based on diffused responsibility.

The atrocities that continued due to the lack of action taken by the university are the reason that the NCAA had every right to step in. This was the only way that other organizations in the future would be able to avoid the trap of pluralistic ignorance. This is a term used in psychology to explain the inexplicable behavior of individuals when they refuse to step up in times of extreme uncertainty. This is not to excuse the conscious effort that kept Sandusky surrounded by potential young victims.

The NCAA appropriately handled the situation by setting a precedent for scandalous behavior. Organizations will no longer be able to push their devastating secrets aside in place of winning trophies. They must figure out a way to hold their players and administration accountable at all levels.

There has been a lot of outrage about the personalities of those who were in charge and did nothing. I find it hard to believe that anyone would allow Sandusky to continue to work with children after the initial allegations were made. I do not understand the rationale behind such a decision but there is an explanation. Even if the board felt motivated to do something, to report the child rape allegations, there was no real incentive to do so. It took this terrible event to make sure that close-knit groups like the Penn State athletic department are not insulated from accountability.

Every big college town has its own bubble to protect when it comes to athletes and reputation, so it is not enough to think that Penn State fans are any different than Ohio State fans in wanting to protect their alma mater. This is not a matter of ego or higher morality. I believe that all involved in the cover-up were not purely selfish in their lack of response. I don’t think that damning the legacy of Joe Paterno is going to help the victims and their families as they attempt to recover. Everyone wants a scapegoat when the unthinkable occurs, but human nature can be a tricky thing. The bystander effect happens more than most people want to admit. Atrocity brings this phenomenon to the forefront. If no one feels directly responsible for the protection of others, then looking the other way can be a lot easier when several people do it together.

For the NCAA not to get involved would have been a great injustice for the world of college sports. The bubble has been burst, leaving in its wake the destruction of several careers and accomplishments. Regardless of what the reports say or how angry the fans are at the treatment of their school there is no denying the significance the NCAA decision has on university practices. This may seem as an imposition to schools that have no record of impropriety and do not want to think about the possibility of a Sandusky case occurring on their campus. The fact remains that without an outside system of checks and balances there is no real commitment to ensuring the safety of campus activities. If students and parents are to truly believe their schools have their best interests in mind then the harsh consequences of this case should reassure them.

Jolene Pohl is a dedicated Dayton democrat volunteer/activist and a WSU grad student. Her favorite past-times include banter, debate and laughing out loud. She can be reached at

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Current Graduate student at Wright State University. I should finish a Master's of Humanities by fall 2012. I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio but my heart belongs with half of my family in New Mexico! "We are only as strong as the weakest link." You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter @DemWSU AND Google+

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