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There are few crimes more horrendous than child molestation. When an adult violates social mores, human dignity, and the responsibility to safeguard the innocent, there are few who would say that person shouldn’t suffer severe penalties, both legal and social.

But the allegation of pedophilia isn’t a license to throw-out other important social and legal conventions:  presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the disavowal of guilt by association, and the administration of justice by investigation instead of reaction.

Jerry Sandusky stands accused of molesting eight young boys. The alleged incidents may have taken place while Sandusky was an assistant football coach at Penn State University. It appears that Sandusky’s superiors at Penn State may have known of the allegations before they were made public.

Note the important qualifiers “accused”, “alleged”, “may have”, and “appears”. These are important words because until local and federal authorities complete their investigations, and until Jerry Sandusky is found guilty or innocent, none of these accusations and allegations are facts. And we should proceed on the basis of facts, because people’s careers, community standing, and very lives are at stake.

Joe Paterno was Sandusky’s boss. As the head coach of the Penn State football program he should have reported any accusations against Sandusky to his superiors in the University administration, and it appears that’s exactly what Paterno did. Again, until allegations move into the realm of facts, we can’t really say for sure.

If Paterno did report accusations against Sandusky to the University administration, they should have investigated the allegations, and reported them to law enforcement authorities. It appears the administrators did not do their “due diligence” – it appears they may have knowingly covered-up the allegations against Sandusky.

Right now the usual hysterics surround this case: the media is exploiting the drama to get ratings, advocacy groups are passionately calling for resignations, and at the same time gaining media attention for their cause. The educational community is looking to lop off heads left and right in an attempt to appear responsible after-the-fact. It’s the usual circus in such a case, comprised of fear, politics, and scandal-mongering.

But we mustn’t lose sight of the truly important aspects of the Jerry Sandusky case: if Sandusky is proven to be innocent it’s too late to rehabilitate his reputation. If Paterno did the right thing it’s too late to leave him to his career coaching football if he’s forced to resign. If administrators who didn’t cover-up the Sandusky case are fired it’s too late to undo the harm to their careers and community standing.

And if Sandusky is guilty? Then there is the need for justice for his victims. And justice is all we can give them, because in that case Sandusky will already have deprived them of a normal, undamaged life. But we need to know that before we take actions that may or may not be the correct ones.

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