What was he thinking?
That's what you'd like to ask the Penn State assistant coach who told a grand jury he witnessed a man raping a 10-year-old boy and did not call police.
What was he thinking?
That's what you wonder about the elderly janitor at Penn State who told his boss he witnessed a man in the middle of a sex act with a small boy but did not call police.
What were they thinking?
That's the question yet to be answered by the football coach, the athletic director and the Penn State administrators who had apparently known for years about Jerry Sandusky's creepy admission that he had taken showers with small boys, and were now being told that his perversions were actually far worse. And still they did not call police.
On the surface, this is the incomprehensible part of the Penn State saga.
What would possess these decent, accomplished men — sons and husbands and fathers and grandfathers — to keep these horrifying secrets to themselves?
The answer, I believe, is simple and yet completely unconscionable.
It's because that's the culture of big-time college athletics.
The first rule of a locker room is that whatever you see in here stays in here. You do not tell police, you do not tell reporters, you do not tell anyone outside of the program. It is a philosophy so ingrained that, in this case, it superseded basic human dignity.
And do not think for one moment that it is unique to Penn State. This may be an extreme case, but the same mind-set exists at Florida and FSU and USF and everywhere else.
Failed drug tests, rescinded scholarships, dorm room assaults, petty thefts happen every day in college athletics, and they get swept under the rug by coaches with obscene salaries and administrators with corporation-sized budgets.
Players are taught early on that they are part of a family. And you never betray the family. That goes for the athletes, the coaches, the trainers and all the support staff.
It sounds honorable when you're talking about the little stuff, but it gradually engulfs everything in its way until you realize lifelong values have been nudged aside.
So instead of notifying the authorities upon seeing Sandusky in the shower, then-grad assistant Mike McQueary later told the grand jury that he went home and discussed it with his father before telling coach Joe Paterno a day later.
And Paterno waited another day before telling his athletic director. And the athletic director and university vice president apparently decided not to notify law enforcement. Meanwhile, a 10-year-old rape victim was essentially thrown away.
What could possibly make them believe they could get away with this?
Because they already had.
In 1998, Sandusky admitted to taking showers on campus with two small boys that involved inappropriate touching. University police detectives eavesdropped on a conversation Sandusky had with the mother of one of the boys where he acknowledged the incident and asked for forgiveness. But, when she pressed, he would not promise her to avoid showers with little boys in the future.
Sandusky was never charged in the case but, within months, was told by Paterno that he would not succeed him as head coach as had once been assumed.
Sandusky then resigned, but he was given free rein of Penn State facilities.
This is the power of elite college football programs. This is the hubris of the men involved. This is the corruption of character.
Even now, after all the pain, shame and humiliation, it is still rooted deep within their souls. Even Wednesday, in the hours before he was removed from his position, Paterno did not fully grasp the impact of the choices he made or ignored.
When students came to his home Tuesday night in a show of support, he came outside and led them in a Penn State cheer, as if this were a pep rally and not a child's nightmare.
And when he announced in a statement on Wednesday that he would retire at the end of the season, he boldly instructed Penn State's board of trustees not to bother considering his job status, as if he were the one running the university.
And that, I suppose, is the point.
Too many college football coaches have been given that kind of power. They bring so much money and publicity to their campuses, that their fiefdoms go unchecked.
They control information, and they crush dissent. Whatever they ask for is provided, and whatever they dislike is made to disappear.
So when you wonder what they were thinking, you might want to start there.
For these people protect their own. They protect their brand name. They protect their image, and they protect anything that might interfere with the scoreboard.
Apparently, they are willing to protect it at any cost.