Representative Wheatley: Lessons To Be Learned From Penn State Scandal

Nov 16, 2011

In the wake of the alleged sexual abuse cover-up involving a former Penn State football coach and the University brass, a Pittsburgh state lawmaker hopes to learn from the tragedy and urges state government to create a special committee to investigate.

Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) wants to create a bipartisan House-Senate committee to examine the "flaws in the system" that allowed such a scandal to take place. The committee would review the state's child abuse reporting requirements and procedures, which in their current form absolve head football coach Joe Paterno from any criminal charges.

In 2002, Paterno reported Jerry Sandusky's alleged sexual abuse in the football facilities to his superior, but not to law enforcement. The failure of the university to report to the police allowed Sandusky to remain without criminal charge for nearly a decade. Wheatley hopes that the committee's investigation would lead to legislation to make it law that such abuse cases in government agencies and the state's education institutions must be reported to legal authorities, not up the school's or department's chain of command.

Wheatley said that as terrible as the Penn State scandal is, it can be an opportunity to re-examine state codes.

"I think it is unfortunate that a lot of this is happening as a reaction to something tragic," Wheatley said. "But many times … it takes crises to really shock us back into the reality of the always, ever-changing situations."

Many of the alleged victims of sexual abuse were part of Sandusky's foundation, the Second Mile. Wheatley said that any publicly-supported institution or foundation should be subject to more strict enforcements to prevent this in the future.

"I think the committee, at the discretion of our leadership, would certainly be within its parameters, at least the way I'm thinking of it, to look at all entities that we have either direct funding sources or regulation over or indirect," Wheatley said.