By Jason Keidel
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Let’s understand this…
A few oil men buy Eric Dickerson a new car, slide some envelopes under the table to some blue-chip prospects from blue-collar backgrounds, and SMU gets the death penalty.
But Penn State’s brass, led by the beloved Joe Paterno, harbor alleged serial child rapist Jerry Sandusky for years (if not decades) and, well, nothing happens. At least nothing in the way of NCAA sanctions.
While the world tries to identify the assaulted children, Penn State is scoping Google trends, wondering how the team can garner good publicity before playing Ohio State. It’s as though the school weren’t just in a geographically obscure place, but also insulated from the laws of logic, reason, and righteousness.
According to a report yesterday from the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, which was seconded by former Nittany Lion (and New York Giant) Brandon Short, Sandusky sat in the school president’s suite to watch Joe Paterno’s 409th win on October 29 – one week before he was arrested for sexually assaulting eight boys (which has now grown to ten). Even for a school now known for its startling ineptitude, this is a new low.
“How is Penn State supposed to know that Sandusky is about to be cuffed and coined the most disgusting creature in the republic?” you ask.
Well, because Paterno, along with the school’s president, athletic director, and assistant coach Mike McQueary, had already testified before the very grand jury that indicted Sandusky.
Which leads us to the question many of you might be asking…
Why does Penn State football still exist?
We know the answer, of course: Money. A good college football team is a gold mine, and gold mines spawn their own minions and bodyguards, suits scrambling to keep the conveyor belt churning out good players, wins, bowls, and bounty. And if any Kool-Aid guzzler tells you it’s about an earnest and honest attempt to develop student athletes, just show them a picture of Sandusky.
If SMU’s actions warranted the guillotine, what does enabling an alleged child molester deserve? The Mustangs’ malfeasance was seen as systemic corruption. They were warned on myriad occasions to keep their coin in their pockets, or else…
So, what do you call Penn State’s handling of Sandusky? You have that obscenely clandestine report conducted by the university in 1998. Then, miraculously, after being named Assistant Coach of the Year and Paterno’s presumed successor, Sandusky “retires” in 1999. So the school smelled this foul dog on their lawn and vaporized him. Yet Sandusky, despite the report, his firing, and the account of McQueary in 2002, is allowed on Penn State’s campus for years and years thereafter (often with kids), including that afternoon in October 2011.
LaVar Arrington, Penn State icon and de facto bandleader of the ornery chorus of former players who want accountability from their former school, has changed the team’s mantra from “We Are Penn State” to “We Are No More.” Arrington is urging current players to transfer from the cauldron of Penn State to… anywhere but there.
He’s right, but for the wrong reasons. Arrington is befuddled by the hiring of Bill O’Brien, whom we only know because Bill Belichick hired him. Arrington wanted interim coach Tom Bradley or some other Nittany Lion lifer to assume the reins, forgetting that company men and their shared omerta were the very problem that led to this scandal.
I don’t care if they hired Bill O’Brien, Bill O’Reilly, Vince Lombardi, or Tom Landry. Why would anyone care? The matter before the court of law, public opinion, and public decency is that of an evil man who roamed State College, using his charity and cherished position at Penn State to recruit and rape vulnerable boys with impunity (allegedly).
“Penn State and SMU are apples and oranges!”
Yes, they are. Penn State’s transgressions are historically violent and vulgar, whereas Southern Methodist was simply stupid. Mike McQueary marched into Joe Paterno’s house and told him what he saw Sandusky do in that shower. That, on the heels of the ’98 report, should have had Paterno speed-dialing detectives five minutes later. He didn’t, and you know the rest.
If the argument against sanctions is that SMU was a technical gaffe and Penn State is a legal gaffe, then I can’t process that paradox.
Maybe some semantic, technical, or legal swamp precludes the NCAA from punishing Penn State. The Paterno Apologists – and there are still alarming armies of you – will blast all of us who don’t bow to the beleaguered and, now, broken old coach. (Even women will call me every vulgarity in the book over this column, if my last few Penn State pieces are any indication.) I swore I’d never write about this story again because, frankly, I don’t need the abuse from cowards who hide behind handles, sniping from the comfort of cubicles and basements. By tonight there will be dozens of profane, misguided missives bulging from my inbox, branding me things I can’t repeat here. But Penn State, by dint of their deception, won’t let us leave them alone.
There are a lot of good people who teach and learn at Penn State. And there are good people who played and coached football. They don’t deserve to be inside the blast radius of this radioactive narrative. But someone they know probably knew something about Jerry Sandusky and didn’t say anything. And now everyone must pay something. We’re often asked to sacrifice for the greater good, from family to work to military service. Sandusky made State College too toxic for life to resume its collegial regality. There must be a few nuclear winters before the idyllic canvas returns to that campus.
We know on some level, at least in the abstract, that monsters exist. Sadly, we now know that otherwise respected – if not revered – people will protect monsters to protect themselves, a brand, and a way of life that the Sandusky scandal forever tainted. Had the right people said the right things ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago, this would have been seen as a rogue beast who allegedly burdened the world but was caught before he could do more harm. And more harm. And more harm. Think of how many kids could have been saved from a burial in his basement, from which no child emerges the same, or even sane.
There’s a simple question: Who knew? When asked, all who run that school scatter like roaches when the light flicks on, and a collective “No Hablo Ingles” echoes through Happy Valley. And when we’re told nobody knew, it means everybody knew. And thus, we reach a fork in the spiritual road. How culpable are they? It’s a question only you can answer, using a composite of moral compasses you acquire through the years. It’s hard for yours truly to separate the big monster from the little monsters that helped him.
There needs to be a Barry Goldwater approach to Penn State, at least to its football program. It dies. Now. It won’t, but it felt good demanding its death. This story, the people who allegedly protected Sandusky, knows no decency. Every time we reach bottom it reveals trap doors.
On some level, a sportswriter’s job is to romanticize sports, to italicize its iconic qualities, to make the simplest journey of 100 yards something Homeric. But some things just put sports in perspective, and make us feel childish for giving such gravitas to a game played by children. Some things are more important than the score.
Some will wonder how Penn State will fare on the football field over the next few years. I won’t. But I will wonder why it exists. And I will wonder why “Penn State” and “Football” will be used in the same sentence, while sentencing commences in State College.
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