Employee Background Check Lessons from Joe Paterno

employee background checkJoe Paterno fired.  His 46 year run as the head football coach at Penn State over. Some might think this was very abrupt.  A career sidelined in a blink of an eye.  However this has been brewing for more than 15 years.

As I have followed the news reports, I have thought about what are the employee background check lessons can we learn from this tragedy?

First, let’s quit referring to this as a scandal.  This is not a consenting adult in the oval office.   The term scandal undermines the vicious, violent attacks scores of young boys allegedly endured at the hands of former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky.

Let me digress and speculate that the trail of damaged young boys surely goes further back than1994.  Why?  Because sexually abusing young boys is not a midlife crisis.

Sandusky started his football career at Penn State in 1964.  Do you want me to believe that this insatiable desire to rape and sodomize children started in the twilight of his football coaching career?

Now let’s be clear that Sandusky has only been arrested and charged for these crimes and is innocent until proven guilty.  I get that.  I don’t need a flood of comments from irritated readers, hiding behind false names and fake email addresses, explaining due process and how law enforcement, the courts, society and background screening firms are corrupt and are out to get innocent people like Jerry Sandusky.

Let’s take a look at the allegations against Jerry Sandusky.

  • 1977 founds Second Mile to work with troubled children from dysfunctional families.  Was his mission to help or prey on vulnerable young boys?
  • 1998 Sandusky admits to investigators that he showered with an 11 year old boy and that it was wrong.  District Attorney Ray Gricar does not file criminal charges.  Would a grown man showering with a young boy violate any policies within your organization?
  • 1999 Sandusky retires from Penn State.
  • 2000 a janitor in the Lasch Football Building at Penn State observes Sandusky performing oral sex on a young boy in the shower.   Is it possible the janitor’s vision was distorted by inhaling too many cleaning chemicals?
  • 2002 a grad assistant walks into the football locker room and observes Sandusky subjecting a young boy (10 years old) to anal intercourse in the shower.  Did the grad assistant mistake this for something innocent?
  • Grad assistant tells Coach Paterno who then notifies Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley.
  • Grad assistant is called to a meeting with Curley and VP of Finance and Business Gary Schultz later in the month where he is told they will look into it.
  • Grad assistant hears from Curley that Sandusky’s locker room keys have been taken and that The Second Mile was notified.
  • Grad assistant is never interviewed by investigators until a Grand Jury in December 2010.
  • 2005 Sandusky meets another young boy through The Second Mile.
  • 2008 Clinton County High School notifies authorities after victim’s mother discloses he has been sexually abused by Sandusky.
  • 2008 PA Attorney General initiates an investigation.
  • Sept. 2010 Sandusky retires from The Second Mile to spend more time with family.
  • Nov 5, 2011 Sandusky arrested and arraigned on 40 criminal counts and released on $100,000 bond.
  • Nov 7, 2011 Curley and Schultz charged with failing to report the complaints against Sandusky.
  • Nov 9, 2011 Joe Paterno fired.

Ugly.  Ugly.  Ugly.

Well, there has to be some employee background check lessons can we learn from this?

The first lesson is access.   The incidents that cost Paterno, Curly, Schultz and Spanier their jobs (and Curly and Schultz a possible criminal record) happened AFTER Sandusky retired.  But they still allowed him access to the football facilities where he allegedly raped young boys.

As an employer we must do everything we can to prevent the Sanduskies of the world from gaining access to our organizations.  That means we commit ourselves to quality criminal background screening and comprehensive reference checks.  Yes, Sandusky did not have a criminal record but what would quality reference checks have revealed?

Second, the safety and security of children is a moral and legal obligation.  How could Joe Paterno, Curly, Schultz and University President Spanier allow so many victims to be harmed by remaining silent?

The life lesson is you have a moral obligation to speak out when you witness injustice.  That does not mean covering it up.  That does not mean asking someone to resign from your organization under a cloud of suspicion and allowed to move on.

This means drawing a line in the sand and saying I will do whatever it takes to stop you!