Keidel: The State Of Penn State

By Jason Keidel
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For decades, State College has been a 4.5 square-mile oasis inside a more rigorous reality, a pastoral nook near mining country and shuttered steel mills to the west. From Centre County to the Ohio border, Pennsylvania has produced an obscenely inordinate number of football stars, like so many cubes of coal dumped from a truck. No matter the hardships of the region, there was football in general, and Penn State football in particular.

Countless polls have called State College among the safest places in America – a designation now shattered by Jerry Sandusky and, to a lesser extent, his colleagues.

For sane people who don’t make forensics or pathology their profession, it’s impossible to quantify this, with this applying to him, he who has since surrendered status as human. There is no punishment commensurate to crimes like this, so we look elsewhere for sanity and accountability, since Jerry Sandusky has forfeited his right to speak. This is the rare time we eschew the caveat of allegedly. Presumption of innocence – innocence taking many hues, like the purity he ripped from those he raped – is the luxury of those less serial in their sickness.

Whenever scandal breaks, we regurgitate the Watergate bromide – what did he know and when did he know it? “He” is Joe Paterno, of course. Paterno is the autocrat of that autumnal, football fiefdom, where he was Sandusky’s boss for over two decades. By all accounts, Paterno’s rule over the area was so thorough that any malfeasance reached his desk in moments, much less what his defensive coordinator committed.

Paterno, who has been the face of the place for so long that he assumes an almost biblical aura, is the man everyone wants to speak on the matter. Heavy is the head…

No matter how Paterno answers, he will likely be stained by the stench of these crimes, if only by default, distance, or association with the criminal.

Adding to the incongruity of it all is that it happened on the iconic coach’s watch, in a place called Happy Valley, and to children of a charity. No matter how he answers, Paterno will no longer be the avuncular, cuddly “Joe Pa,” whose absurdly dark hair, bone-thick black glasses, and raspy sermons have become as much his signature as his deeds under October leaves. Considering his local prominence, he can’t hide behind press conferences cancelled by his superiors, when we know he has none. He must talk. He must talk soon.

There seems to be an endless chain of command that fumbled every time Sandusky served up yet another chance to chain him to a jail cell. And while no one has implicated Paterno in a legal sense, the court of public opinion is deliberating on derailing his legacy. At best, Paterno is a tragically loyal friend. At worst, well, you can decide.

Callers have suggested that this atrocity was spawned by reckless devotion to sports, a campus party gone anarchy, replete with willful ignorance from important people who should have known better. With all due respect, sports have nothing to do with this. Penn State just happens to be the backdrop to a sickening, but hardly original, narrative.

Successful Person A commits a crime and Persons B and C, who have benefited from Person A’s performance, toss a blanket on what they think is a campfire, not realizing the flames have spread across uncounted acreage and burned countless victims.

Of course, we’d like to think that most scandals are less savage. In the cases of Miami and Ohio State, for instance, the transgressions involved money and gifts circuitously directed to players, breeching the hard line of NCAA law, though nothing that warranted the Warren Commission.

But this, this is beyond a nightmare, a horror on eternal loop. We don’t understand this. I don’t understand this. I do know that there needs to be a Barry Goldwater approach to those involved, including a blast radius that eviscerates everyone who knew of these deeds and ducked. They must be fired, at least, assuming they’re not legally culpable.

Sandusky used his charity to channel his demented libido, and often used Penn State’s facilities to host these horrors. And too many people knew too much for this to slide for over a decade. The details are too grotesque to recount here. Not only did he destroy children, he focused on the children most easily destroyed.

It’s nice to have Kim Jones and other alums to provide special perspective (including my mother, who attended Penn State while, yes, Paterno was the coach) about the shattered ambiance, about the old-school state school that never changed its uniform, never glued names on their jerseys. But this goes beyond the bond of a college degree. This is an affront on life, not Nittany Lions.

There’s a natural gullibility (or optimism, if you prefer) in all of us. We assumed Penn State was clean because Joe Paterno said so. He’s been there so long, was so celebrated, that he became part of America’s football family, like a generational ornament we reflexively place on every Christmas tree. If something were wrong, then some person, some force, would simply correct it. Especially Joe Paterno.

Paterno’s son said the family is focused on Nebraska. No one else is. It’s vaguely unfair to Paterno’s family, and to Penn State’s players, who have been wrenched from college life. But there are children, whose names aren’t on jerseys, either, who would love to have that problem.

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One Comment

  1. Paul D says:

    He failed. It’s as simple as that. He failed. In the most defining moment of his long and storied tenure as the head coach, he failed. This was his test. A man of his iconic stature in that institution and who’s got buildings in the campus named after him weilds an influence and certain powers that afford him the unique position to have a final and undisputed decision on such a matter as this atrocity. Instead of living up to this moral responsibility, he chose the path of least resistance in order to save his program, his legacy, or whatever. That was his choice. He failed. He watched as Sandusky continued on in the trainer’s room and maybe chose to ignore it. That his career should end in such an ignominious manner could be seen as nothing less than appropriate, and yes, earned.

    1. Robert Richardson says:

      Well put Paul, couldn’t of said it better myself.

      1. Kurt Spitzner says:

        Both of you guys put my comments to shame!

  2. JK says:

    Agreed, Robert. We share a fondness for The U despite its warts. There are no comparisons now. Paying players is jaywalking now.

    But, as you said, the widening lens over State College shouldn’t obscure the victims. And the current players aren’t victims, nor is anyone peripherally inconvenienced. Only the kids he assaulted should be protected while he (and lord knows who else) is prosecuted.

    1. Robert Richardson says:

      Just read that Mike McQueary was the G.A. that abandoned a child to his fate. ARE YOU KIDDING ME! Wide receivers coach AND Recruitment Coordinator. These guys are worse than the Mob. At least the mob would have zero tolerance for pedophiles and deal with it swiftly. This man was actually in people’s homes telling them directly or indirectly, “Your child is safe with me, with this institution?”

      If the Penn State of Trustees have one shred of integrity, then EVERY single last person implicated needs to be gone … and swiftly. I am sickened with the hypocrisy being perpetrated here. Pep rallies for Joe Pa? Calling this Mike McQueary a leader? Man I’m telling you, I am not high and mighty but I actually get queasy. This is a microcosm of our society, it’s rotten and the stench is overpowering.

  3. Kurt Spitzner says:

    Unfortunately,and as stated or implied by the others is that the worst is yet to come out.Considering how heinous what we already know happened its inconceivable to think about what else may have occurred over the last 20 years.And what downright sucks is that its always the children that get hurt the most.Lets just hope that everyone involved will be dealt with now and eternally.

    1. Robert Richardson says:

      The time-line keeps going further and further back. They amount of witnesses and people grows. UNCONSCIONABLE!

      1. Kurt Spitzner says:

        I have a son who will be going to college next fall but for many reasons,one being he will not be 18 until after the semester starts,but more important I am not comfortable having him be under other peoples control or guidance at that young an age.I must also add that I have raised him properly but not with a sheltered life so he is very aware of the evils in this world,but is also a black belt in Tea Kwan Do,yet that would not necessarily protect him from the evils in this world!
        i must also commend you on all your thoughts on this matter,and just wish others felt the same.

    2. JK says:

      Indeed, Kurt. It seems the bottom has trap doors. Words can’t even frame this atrocity.

  4. Master Shake says:

    Our society unconditionally forgives sports figures who are murders, spouse beaters, psychopathic dog killers, drug dealers, and sexual predators. And now this? I realize that according to the law, he did not commit a crime, but there has to be a point where we hold these people accountable and not give them a free pass just because they are capable of throwing a ball or coaching a team.

    1. JK says:

      I agree, but I’d extend the narrative to celebrities in general, not just sports stars. Favorable treatment isn’t limited to Nittany Lions.

  5. Robert Richardson says:

    I hope the center of this horrific,disgusting saga doesn’t get lost in the rush to judgment: young, shattered, innocent lives. As a vulnerable population our society has an inherent obligation to protect and nurture our children. The fact that this cover-up occurred at an educational institution of “so called” high moral standards makes it even more sickening. I have read that the G.A. that found the perpetrator and victim in the shower together was trying to “do the right thing” when he eventually reported the incident. It maybe easy for me to say that this wouldn’t of appeared to be a consensual act of two adults because a 10 year boy looks like a ten year old boy! That being said then its a child rape occurring in front of him. He should of acted immediately by interjecting himself. to protect this child. I wonder if this G.A. was eventually rewarded for his “politically correct discretion” (SICKENING). The fallout is just beginning to ooze out like pus that’s been festering for a decade now. Justice demands that all the complicit be held accountable. I can’t help but look back some 20 years ago when my school “The U” was branded public enemy #1 and as a gang of criminals, thugs, rogues. There would be the contrasts cited between Miami and Penn State and comments that Penn State represented all that is good with mom and apple pie. Nothing … NOTHING that ever happened at The U compares to this. I shutter to think of Joe Pa’s role in this. Being the face of this institution required him to follow through with this case to its rightful conclusion. At best he just passed along information and at worst, well I don’t want to think about it.

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