By Sweeny Murti
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For about thirty years now I have been proud to say I am a Penn State football fan, and for over twenty years now I have been proud to say I am a Penn Stater. That is not an easy thing to do today.
At best, Jerry Sandusky is a sick man. Grand Jury investigations that take almost three years and result in forty-count indictments involving eight victims of child molestation don’t come about by simple misunderstandings. At worst, university and athletic officials may have helped cover up criminal activity. And maybe they did so because the fallout would have put their sterling reputations in the dumpster.
The problem is that, in true Law & Order SVU fashion, the allegations have come against a man who has been lauded for a lifetime of accomplishment in the molding of young men.
Jerry Sandusky began coaching linebackers at Penn State in 1970, was promoted to defensive coordinator in 1977. Upon retiring after the 1999 season, he had spent three decades building some of the finest defensive football teams in the country, helping Joe Paterno win his only two National Championships in 1982 and 1986. Sandusky helped Penn State earn the nickname “Linebacker U” and made a name for himself along the way not only as a football coach, but also as a compassionate and generous man.
In a university press release from 1999, when Sandusky was named as the national Assistant Coach of the Year, he is praised for a previous award that recognized his “contributions to the pursuit of sports excellence, sportsmanship, participation or opportunity within their local community.” The same press release boasts that Sandusky was “awarded the University’s Barash Human Service Award and the YMCA Service-to-Youth Award in 1995” as well as an award from the NAACP. And in 1977 Sandusky founded The Second Mile, a charitable organization started to help underprivileged and at-risk youths through various programs.
The Findings of Fact by the Grand Jury states quite plainly, “It was within The Second Mile program that Sandusky found his victims.” The 23-page document reads a thousand times worse than any TV show you’ve seen involving sexual predators. The Grand Jury findings reveal a pattern of deplorable acts over a long period of time that will make your skin crawl.
I used to think Jerry Sandusky was a fantastic football coach with a good heart and generous soul. Now I can’t understand how a man like this goes to sleep at night. If all or any of these allegations are true, Sandusky is a man whose epitaph has been written, his legacy wrapped up not in All-America linebackers, but instead in damaged young men who were innocent victims.
The football program and the university have a lot to answer for in the days ahead. The “how much did Paterno know and when” questions will be the most relevant for one simple reason. The man has spent over half a century convincing parents that their teenaged sons will be safe at Penn State, that they will become better football players and better men, and that they will be looked after in a healthy environment.
For the most part that has been true. Penn State has avoided the embarrassment of scandals that have hit major powers like USC, Miami, and Ohio State. The “Success with Honor” mission statement was bold, but effective. But now Penn State has been hit with a scandal that’s worse than anything having to do with recruiting violations, improper benefits, or dealings with shady boosters. This is a scandal that eats at the very foundation of a school’s promise to take care of the young men and women within their walls.
That many of these incidents are alleged to have occurred on the Penn State campus should frighten any parent, and that might be the reason athletic and university officials allegedly perjured themselves in a cover-up. And if that’s how it happened, then their lives and careers are up in smoke too. What occurred here was not a victimless crime such as selling helmets and jerseys for cash. This was deviant behavior at its most unspeakable level.
No, this did not occur with Penn State players or with coaches currently on the staff. But it happened with a man who the most respected head coach in college football trusted and gave full access to university facilities. It happened on Joe Paterno’s watch and under Penn State’s nose. Maybe this was one renegade employee who fooled everybody by hiding his horrific habits. But don’t we all find it hard to believe that nobody knew what was going on?
Could Paterno have done more? First reaction is to say, “Of course he could have. He’s Joe Paterno! Why didn’t he just go to the police himself? Why didn’t he confront Sandusky, his lifelong colleague?” It’s all fair, and all things he will have to address in more detail soon. Maybe the answers will offer more clarity. And maybe they will make it worse. That’s why we wait.
This thing is ugly by definition and will not go away soon. The consequences could rock Penn State to its core, affecting the futures of its President, it’s AD, and, by the way, the winningest football coach in history. (Athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz stepped down on Sunday night.) Should they all lose their jobs, even go to jail? The anger and the emotion of the moment say yes, but the legal process needs to be played out here too. It’s a simple answer in the hours after a scandal breaks. Its more complicated as time goes on.
Programs that are put on probation because a 19-year old kid took money from an agent can shake off the sting of a few scholarship losses relatively quickly. The stench of a scandal like this will last a lot longer. Because there are real victims here, and they won’t forget what happened just because the football team makes it back to a BCS Bowl.
I still think fondly of Penn State. It’s rare that even two days go by without me donning some apparel to show off my blue and white allegiance. When I think of Penn State I think of my youth, of the HUB Lawn, Creamery Ice Cream, and lifelong friendships. Those things will not go away for a long time.
But the sadness of knowing that the pristine image of my alma mater has been tarnished with such heinous behavior will not go away anytime soon either.