The eyewitness testimony that confronted jurors in Jerry Sandusky's child-molestation trial this week was disturbing not only for its graphic descriptions of sex with boys, but for what it said about the people who surrounded and maybe even protected the once-revered Penn State assistant coach.
Eight accusers took the witness stand and described how Sandusky molested them in campus showers, hotel bathrooms, a basement bedroom, a sauna used by the football team — right under the noses of his friends, colleagues, family members and acquaintances.
Ann Tenbrunsel, a professor of business ethics at the University of Notre Dame, attributes the failure to stop Sandusky to a phenomenon she calls "motivated blindness," a tendency, whether subconscious or deliberate or sometimes both, to ignore unethical or even criminal behavior by others when you perceive it to be in your best interest to do so. Motivated blindness "means I don't probe, I don't ask, I don't believe," Tenbrunsel said. "I have evidence in front of me but choose to disregard facts."
Some people could have kept quiet about their suspicions because they wanted to protect Penn State and its beloved — and highly lucrative — football program, or their own jobs, she said. Others might not have wanted to believe the sainted Sandusky capable of the abuse he's now charged with.
"You have all kinds of examples of people who either did not notice, or when they did notice didn't engage in behaviors that would have stopped it because it wasn't in their best interests to do so," said Tenbrunsel, co-author of "Blind Spots," a book that explores why otherwise decent people sometimes fail to do the right thing.