Let’s get this out there right quick. I abhor the terrible tragedy that has taken place at Penn State University. The pedophilia that is described in the 23-page grand jury testimony is heinous, and no one involved seems to have done enough to protect these young people.
That said, now it seems that everyone is spending too much energy pointing fingers, and to be sure some of the finger pointing has absolutely nothing to do with those young victims.
Of course, the first reaction was to clean house. People in very high places were either covering up the depraved misdeeds of football coach Jerry Sandusky, or they chose to simply look the other way (which is the same as covering it up).
Joe Paterno is the name that must not be spoken, though he gave the university 46 years as head coach, turning out all-Americans and college graduates. His was a regime that stressed athletic excellence and educational excellence. More telling is that the Penn State football program—in fact all of Penn State athletics—aimed for that higher moral ground. Sure, there were the occasional malefactors who got in trouble with the law, or seemed to major in Drinking Irresponsibly.
But Penn State was the school with the good guys, not like the University of Miami, or Southern Methodist, where cheating was a way of life. Not like Ohio State, where obviously you could buy a couple of players—or at least rent them—for the price of a few tattoos.
A graduate assistant coach came to Paterno and said he saw Sandusky raping (the Grand Jury called it Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse and Indecent Assault so it was rape) a young boy in the showers. Paterno told his superiors (though the argument goes that at Penn State, Paterno didn’t have any “superiors”) though no one in that chain ever called the police or any child welfare authorities.
The ugly big secret is that the culture at Penn State (and, unfortunately at too many places) was a “boys will be boys network,” where no one talked about that kind of sexual abuse, though it seemed everyone knew about it. Even many of the alleged victims of the abuse didn’t speak up until investigators began combing through the growing evidence of Sandusky’s behavior. Sandusky wasn’t sneaky. He wasn’t discreet. The grand jury testimony tells of him calling one victim’s house 60 times trying to reach him and parading his victims before the public in plain sight.
I’m not going to defend Paterno. He has done wonderful things for Penn State, for the thousands of football players that have gone through his program, for college football in general. His legacy has been sullied by his actions regarding Sandusky. While the Grand Jury says that Schultz and Curley and President Graham Spanier actually broke the law by not reporting McQueary’s claims, Paterno broke no law. He didn’t go to the police (but, as it turns out, the police took a pass as well).
But defending Joe Pa has become a crime in itself in some corners. Franco Harris, businessman, philanthropist and Steeler Hall-of-Famer, and a player for Paterno at Penn State, defended his former coach, and was vehemently set upon by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. The junior mayor publicly called on Harris to resign from the Pittsburgh Promise board of directors and castigated him for not putting the victims first. But it seems that the sur mayor was putting politics first, not the victims, since Harris’ son F. Dok Harris waged a spirited campaign against Ravenstahl in the last election.
Two good things should come out of this debacle. One is that parents—even the parents of disadvantaged children—should look closer at these programs like The Second Mile before shipping their children off with strangers. More safeguards should be built into the process so that sexual predators do not have access to children.
The other good thing is that the veil has again been lifted off this “dirty little secret” not just at Penn State, but also allegedly at Syracuse and other sports programs where it seems men are preying on young people. The long list of Catholic priest assaults didn’t wake people up. When the situation involving Bishop Eddie Long in Atlanta was brought to light, some people shook their heads, but others nodded their heads knowingly.
We should view the situation at Penn State and say, “never again.” Unfortunately, that’s not true.
(Lou Ransom is former managing editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier.)