It’s a credit to the eight brave young men who revisited the nightmares of their youth, by testifying in a packed courtroom and telling their stories to all of America in the process. It’s also a credit to Attorney General Linda Kelly, who did what her one-time colleagues Ray Gricar and Tom Corbett couldn’t—or wouldn’t—do.
But the work is not over. Far from it. And it only promises to get more difficult from here.
Jerry Sandusky was a monster; a man whose crimes were so heinous they are beyond comprehension for most of us. The folks who allowed him to commit these crimes, over and over and over again, for decades, are much more difficult to dismiss as rogue lunatics.
While it’s up to former FBI director Louis Freeh, and Kelly’s office, to determine who exactly is at fault, certainly former Penn State president Graham Spanier, ex-vice president Gary Schultz and ex-athletic director Tim Curley appear to be on shaky ground. The late Joe Paterno’s actions—and non-actions—are also questionable.
These men are—or were—respected leaders in the community, people we could relate to, not to mention people who staked their careers on the premise that their university was better than most. Penn State, nestled in the innocence of Happy Valley, was above the cesspool that defined other college sports programs and universities. The Penn State leadership, and those who filled their stadium on Saturdays, believed in that grand stature. They preached the Nittany Gospel across the land: JoePa playing the role of martyr by refusing to take the dirty money of the NFL; President Spanier shaming the media for daring to criticize Paterno in the wake of off-field scandal.
They did no wrong. After all, They Are… Penn State.
And now they are accused of turning a blind eye to child sexual abuse?
Nonsense. These men absolutely did not turn a blind eye to Jerry Sandusky’s crimes.
No, these men acted swiftly, decisively and aggressively. They made a very clearly defined, well thought-out and conscious set of decisions: to cover-up Sandusky’s abuse of children.
They didn’t ignore years of warning signs and graphic eye-witness accounts of horrible acts. Rather, they carefully considered the possible crimes, potential evidence, and the repercussion: who committed the acts, what the acts would mean legally, and how they would impact the precious—and lucrative—image of Penn State Football.
The parade of people—fans, media, coaches, Nike chairman Phil Knight—who want to paint Paterno and the others as victims of Sandusky’s actions are at best misguided, and at worst, evidence of the culture that allowed this to happen in the first place.
“These acts by one man cannot overshadow all the years of Paterno’s coaching greatness,” they plead.
Simply put, yes they can. Yes they do. And yes they should.
The only victims are the children Sandusky abused. The rest are adults who made decisions.
Paterno’s Grand Experiment failed, and it failed in the worst way. Preaching about wrong-doing by others is easy; holding yourself accountable is much more difficult. Happy Valley is just like any other city in America, and the Nittany Lions are just like any football team. Good people may populate them, but bad things—horrible things—can happen.
The only way for Penn State to repair its image is to allow that image to be burned to the ground.
Stop preaching. Bring everyone who participated in this cover-up to justice. And move on.