President Barack Obama, commenting publicly for the first time on the child sex abuse scandal that has rocked Penn State University, says people's "number one priority has to be protecting our kids" and that the allegations leveled against Jerry Sandusky should move the nation as a whole to do "some soul-searching."
Obama, speaking Friday with Westwood One Radio reporter Jim Gray during halftime at the 2011 Carrier Classic, was asked for his reaction to Joe Paterno's firing.
Paterno, Penn State's veteran football coach, President Graham Spanier, and several other school officials, were dismissed from their posts because trustees believe they could have done more to make law enforcement officials aware of the alleged rape of a young boy by Sandusky in 2002, according to The Associated Press.
"Obviously what happened was heartbreaking, especially for the victims, the young people who got affected by these alleged assaults, and I think it’s a good time for the entire country to do some soul-searching – not just Penn State," the president said. "We care about sports, it’s important to us, but our number one priority has to be protecting our kids. And every institution has to examine how they operate, and every individual has to take responsibility for making sure that our kids are protected."
Gray asked, "Is this a problem with American culture, when people are in responsible positions who we're trusting now are having these kinds of actions, and does it say something about our society?"
Obama responded, "I don't think it says something about our entire society, but what I think it does say is you can't just rely on bureaucracy and systems in these kinds of situations. People have to step forward, they have to be tapping into just their core decency. When kids are being mistreated – when anyone is being mistreated – all of us have to step up, we don't leave it to somebody else to take responsibility."
Sandusky was Paterno's former assistant and, according to the AP, onetime heir apparent.
Sandusky was arrested Nov. 5 and charged with 40 felony and misdemeanor counts related to the molestation of eight boys over a period of 15 years. He was later released on $100,000 bail.
Obama's interview at the Carrier Classic featured the top ranked North Carolina Tarheels and the Michigan State Spartans. The president also briefly discussed Veterans Day, the economy, the NBA lockout, and other issues.