The horrific things that have come out of Penn State the last few days remain distrubing and indescribable. Nearly all of us have felt a visceral reaction to what came out in the grand jury’s report. If these allegations are true, there is no question that Jerry Sandusky is a monster, and whatever punishment meted out to him is not and will never be enough to pay for his crimes. At the same those, any Penn State officials, up to and including Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, that allowed this to happen should also face justice.
I grew up in South Central Pennsylvania, south of Harrisburg but north of the Maryland border. In term of professional sports loyalty, views are split (my hometown is closer to Baltimore and DC than it is to Philly and Pittsburgh). One thing though is mostly universal: If you’re from that area of Pennsylvania, you are a fan of Penn State football. When Sandusky retired in 1999, I remember a slew of very positive articles in the local paper. I don’t remember the details, but I remember the paper giving him much admiration for both his football work and especially his work with children and The Second Mile.
There’s a lot of talk right now about Joe Paterno’s future, and frankly who gives a *bleep.* The important questions are what did he know, when did he know it, and did he do enough to stop it? The first two questions really can’t be answered right now. The last really can’t either, but the indications are the answer was no. Legally, Paterno appears to be in the clear. Morally though, he’s as much in the muck as the Penn State administration. When you are a teacher of young men, especially one with the respect he once had, this is a breach of trust in the worst possible way, and he must go because of it. Period. Seeing a certain subset of Penn State students vocalize unconditional support for Paterno was nauseating, and I only hope that’s it a certain group of dumb college kids who haven’t grasped the severity of the situation and will one day regret their actions.
Paterno may be the most public figure in this, but Curley, Schultz, and Penn State president Graham Spanier deserve as much, if not more scorn. Of course, the person who deserves the most scorn is Sandusky himself. Let's not forget that.
Initially, I wanted to believe Paterno didn’t do anything wrong. It was a true “Say it ain’t so, Joe” moment. Those feelings passed quickly as the situation developed Saturday afternoon and over the last few days. Did I ever think that the Penn State football program was 100% squeaky clean? No. I figured someday some sort of minor violations would come out, but nothing like what’s happening at Ohio State or Miami, and certainly nothing like this. The confidence I, and so many others, had in that was due to Paterno. He created this belief that these things did not happen at Penn State, and thus that’s how Penn State fans and alums believed. My late aunt graduated from Penn State in 1976 and was a member of the school’s first varsity women’s basketball team. I know she believed it, and I’m damn glad she’s not around to witness this.
I’m not sure if I can support this program anymore, even after everyone involved is inevitably forced out. I may tune in to this week’s game and support the players, who have nothing to do with this. After that, I don’t know, and I’m willing to bet many others feel the same way. Nobody in this position is asking for sympathy, because in the end it doesn’t matter what we think, or what happens to Paterno, or the football team, and maybe not even the university. What matters is at least eight, and now nine, and for all we know more than that, boys were traumatized and had their lives turned upside down by a heinous man they thought they could trust, and that those that had a chance to stop it didn’t.
Penn State University remains a fine academic institution. These events do not change that. However, what we all believed was a bedrock laid down by Joe Paterno and the football team turned about to be a façade that has crumbled and is gone forever. There is no other conclusion other than it was an outcome richly deserved.