Stepping in and stopping wrongdoing

November 11, 2011 1:42:38 PM PST
So when do we get involved in stopping wrongdoing?

It's a question that a lot of people are asking these days, after the see-no-evil mentality that permeated the Penn State administration and its famed football program for the past who-knows-how-many years.

How could all those people who knew about the alleged sex abuse of children by a famous assistant football coach, and just ignore it? How could they not stop it? How could that grad student ? who perhaps not coincidentally ends up as an assistant coach on the football team ? not pull the then-assistant coach off that innocent little 10-year-old boy when he saw the rape occurring in the locker room? How could he, as has been alleged, just go home and tell his father, and then the next day tell the head coach Joe Paterno? How could Paterno not have called police, instead informing his higher ups? How could he have allowed this man to remain on his staff? Why didn't the 28-year-old grad student not pull the coach off the boy? Why didn't he call the cops?

The questions swirl around our heads and around the water cooler.

And the lack of answers speak volume for the culture that existed at Penn State. Not just in the football program, but the administration.

The grad student-turned assistant coach will not be at Penn State's final home game of the season tomorrow. Threats have apparently been made against him, and it's just not safe for him to be roaming the sidelines during the game.

Hardly a shocker.

Tonight at Penn State, there's a vigil for the 8 victims of this 15-year-long child sex abuse scandal. The 8 victims that they know of. Who knows how many more are out there. The assistant coach Jerry Sandusky has now been arrested and charged. But the investigations that didn't happen or were swept under the rug for all those years, will now most certainly take place.

Just how many people are culpable? And how far does this scandal spread? Penn State football was a sacred cow bringing in $70 million this year. There are many who hope it is sacred no more.

We're at Penn State tonight at 11, at the vigil, and covering the preparations for what figures to be an emotional and tense game tomorrow. Our Marci Gonzalez leads our coverage.

This story is disturbing on its face, but it's also provocative because, at least for me, it raises the real question: When do we get involved when we see something that's wrong?

And I don't for a nanosecond mean to compare the horrendous sex abuse of children to lesser crimes, but, for me, my own behavior when I witness misdemeanors has occupying my thoughts today.

I've taken up the practice this year after a couple-of-year hiatus of playing a kind of street-cop when it comes to people littering and spitting on the sidewalk.

"Excuse me, you dropped something here."

Or, "Hello- my children walk on this sidewalk."

I had quelled my natural instinct to confront these societal affronts to our health and safety and quality of life ? quelled them for several years after a couple of hair-raising encounters.

One of them still rings in my memory bank: A man who operated (and I use that term loosely) a rug store by displaying his wares on the sidewalk in front of his shop, walked out of his store and spit on the sidewalk, just a few feet from where his rugs-for-sale were laying, and just a few inches from where I was walking with my then-grade school son. Excuse me, I said. We're walking here, and you're spitting?

The rug seller immediately charged, and virtually jumping up and down inches from my face, yelled for the world to hear, "Go to hell. Go to hell. Go to hell."

I know he said it three times because every once in a while, years later, my son still plays back the episode, and the man's angry admonition.

I stood my ground, glaring at him. But the frantic clasp of my young son's hand on my arm caused me to rethink this whole Bill-Ritter-as-law-enforcer role.

Can I justify these confrontations ? noble as they might be, if you allow me that ? if I put my children in harm's way?

No easy answer. A Don Quixote vs. Pater Familias conundrum.

But the windmill fighter dies hard, and so ? and I'm not sure exactly why it happened this year, I've once again taken up the crusader banner.

I can't say it's because my son is now grown ? because I have a 2-year-old who could also be subjected to a violent reaction from some interloper of a spitter or litterer. And I suspect when my wife sees this I will get the hairy eyeball during my dinner break.

The bottom line: It boils my blood when I see wrongdoing. Someone spits on the street? I'm likely to say something. When I first moved to New York back in 1992, I was walking home from work, and a block from the ABC complex, a young man ran up behind an elderly woman and grabbed the copy of The New York Times tucked under her arm.

Call me crazy ? but I followed him. Several blocks. He stopped at a newsstand, where, to my shock, he sold the paper to the guy behind the counter. Or at least tried to sell it.

"Stop!" I yelled to the vendor. "Don't pay him for that paper ? he just stole it from an old lady."

The guy ? he was fairly young ? turned on his heels, stared at with me daggers, and then ran away. Without any money.

I left as well. And I felt like the Lone Ranger.

It was my first experience as neighborhood mayor in New York, and, I don't mind admitting, I felt empowered. "You're stupid and you could have gotten killed," my best friend told me when I told him the story. "This is New York, you don't know that guy didn't have a gun."

He's right of course.

But so was I.

So I stop spitters and litterers.

Just like I would stop someone trying to rob a bank or attempting to rape someone.

At the least I'd call the cops.

As I said, I'm thinking about all this because of the Penn State child abuse sex scandal. Judging by the responses we're getting on our website and Facebook Page, others are thinking about it as well. And they're disturbed by it. We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Meteorologist Lee Goldberg's weekend AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers with the night's sports. I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa and me, tonight at 11, right after 20/20.



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