CORONADO, Calif. - President Barack Obama says the Penn State sex-abuse scandal should lead to "soul-searching" by all Americans, not just Penn State.
"Obviously what happened was heartbreaking, especially for the victims, the young people who got affected by these alleged assaults," he told Westwood One Radio in an interview Friday night, in his first public comments on the scandal.
"And I think it's a good time for the entire country to do some soul-searching not just Penn State. People care about sports, it's important to us, but our No. 1 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."
The Penn State scandal has cost several university officials their jobs, most notably longtime football coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier. They were fired because trustees felt they did not do enough to alert law enforcement authorities after an alleged assault in March 2002 by Jerry Sandusky, Paterno's former assistant and onetime heir apparent, who has been charged with molesting eight boys over 15 years.
Obama said that the scandal shows that "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 mistreated or anyone, for that matter "all of us have to step up, we don't leave it to somebody else to take responsibility."
Obama spoke at halftime of a college basketball game the Carrier Classic between No. 1 North Carolina and Michigan State, held on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
The president, a huge basketball fan, also discussed the NBA lockout.
"It's killing me!" he said. But he said he had no plans to intercede.
"My attitude is that, in a contest between billionaires and millionaires, they should be able to figure out how to divvy up their profits in a way that serves their fans who are allowing them to be making all this money," Obama said. He made a similar comment about the NFL lockout a few months ago.
The president was also asked about a new policy approved by the NCAA allowing conferences to add up to $2,000 annually to athletic scholarships to help cover the full cost of attendance. While saying he wasn't familiar with the specific proposal, Obama said he supported the general idea that student athletes stay amateur but also have all of their expenses covered.
"They're bringing in billions of dollars into all the institutions that they support," he said. "I hope that we're able to preserve that sense of amateur athletics that makes college sports so terrific."
Obama said that even though he plays golf, basketball remains his favorites sport.
"I play golf for two reasons. One, it's my only excuse to get outside, and two, I'm getting too old to play basketball," the 50-year-old chief executive said. "But when it comes to true love, basketball will always be first in my heart."