For over two and a half months I’ve blogged weekly about college football. I’ve talked about the prior week’s performances on the field, highlighted some of the amazing individual players, or chided teams for failing to live up to expectations. College football is something I’ve followed closely since I was a kid and it is probably the one topic I can most easily write about (and ramble on about…) every week. Trust me, the amount of useless facts I’ve accumulated that relate to teams like Eastern Michigan,Idaho and San Diego State is pretty amazing…and/or depressing. Still, writing about it is a release for me, an opportunity to put nearly 2,000 words on a computer screen and rant about something that, while I don’t have any control over it, I love following, discussing, and debating.
And yet, for the last 10 days I have really struggled to say anything about college football. Never before have I put so many words down that wound up getting deleted or tossed out. The last time I had this much difficulty with a finished product I was working on my senior thesis. This two or three page post has, at times, felt far more difficult.
Part of me didn’t even want to write about Penn State and Jerry Sandusky. Already, dozens of articles written by professionals far more talented than I am have explored every inch of this story. Some of them have been mediocre, but many of them have been exceptional, capturing the case and its emerging facts perfectly, while exploring other nuances to the tragedy as a whole. Really, I figured I wouldn’t be able to do it justice and I was scared shitless about writing on something so layered and difficult. Indeed, it doesn’t even seem like we’ve scratched the surface of this case, and yet there is already so much to think about.
Still, another part of me decided that if I was going to talk about everything college football, including the BCS debate and other off-field issues, then I’d better man up and be able to share my thoughts on the worst story ever connected directly to the sport, even if it doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with the actual sport of football. That is the important distinction to be made; this story is most certainly not about college football. It’s about at least 8 kids who were irrevocably damaged by a predatory monster. It’s about how two major institutions kept the facts surrounding these atrocities concealed and hidden for years, and it’s about how a monster can, for so long, pretend to be an upstanding man in his community. It’s about a Happy town turned to darkness, and a prideful mega-university shamed.
When the case against Sandusky is over, and the civil trials have occurred, and the victims are continuing a life long journey back to some degree of comfort, the college football aspect of the ugliness will seem like a very miniature piece of what has gone on. Oh, it will reverberate in the halls of Penn State, in the stands of Beaver Stadium, and in the locker room of the Nittany Lions for years. If it doesn’t, then that University and its athletic program haven’t learned shit. Still, in areas that really matter, football will fade into the background pretty quickly, a foot note at the end of every stenographers report as Sandusky is processed through the legal system. For now though, it’s still a big part of the focus, mainly because it adds to the severity of the story. There are plenty of predators out there like Jerry Sandusky. The man is, unfortunately not unique in his sickness.
What makes him and this case unique is the man’s station in life, both as a football coach and as the founder of an organization that interacted with nearly 400,000 kids a year in the State of Pennsylvania. As the second most powerful man at Penn State University, Sandusky’s position allowed him to get all kinds of free gifts (the tickets, shoes, jerseys, footballs….hotel rooms) that he in turn used as bait for these children (not a knock against corporate sponsors by the way, just another ugly side affect) and commit the atrocities that he did. The reason college football is important here is because it’s what allowed Sandusky to more easily commit his crimes. But it is not important here for any other reason. Joe Pa’s legacy doesn’t matter. Mike McQueary’s job status doesn’t matter. Nebraska-PSU doesn’t matter. What matters is getting straight exactly what Sandusky did, prosecuting him for it, and sending him to prison forever.
I think the man is as guilty as they come. That abysmal, and pretty disturbing, interview with Bob Costas was as much of a confession as I’ve ever heard. And I definitely don’t think it was just 8 kids. More than 8 may not come forward, but you don’t just suddenly become this kind of sicko as an adult. What causes Sandusky to do what he does is deep seeded and permanent. There is no rehabilitation for what that man is.
For what it’s worth, I think Mike McQueary didn’t do enough. I also think he did more than anyone else associated with Penn State University. An ESPN article recently interviewed a 25 year veteran FBI criminal profiler (Jane Turner) who shed some light on why McQueary initially froze up when confronted with what he saw in the Penn State locker room. She made the point that most men have never seen what McQueary witnessed in any capacity, and therefore the brain doesn’t necessarily know how to handle that kind of trauma, at least initially. This was especially true for McQueary because of his personal relationship with Sandusky. The agent also said she understood why McQueary didn’t pursue the case after he initially elevated it to Paterno and the gang, stating the man knew his whole career and life would probably be on the line if he did. She also said that this didn’t make his inaction in either instance right, just maybe more understandable, and typically human. She almost described McQueary’s reaction as not bad, but not good, a weird grey in-between where many men in the same scenario probably would’ve fallen. I hope that’s not the case, but this woman knows more about this topic than I do. Still, if I had witnessed this and acted as McQueary did, I would expect to be held in the same sort of harsh judgment. He did more than anyone else, but just because his reaction was a “typical human response” doesn’t make it okay.
In the case of Joe Paterno, his legacy is tarnished and deservedly so. Don’t give me bullshit generational excuses or tell me he elevated it as high as he could. My girlfriend’s father put it perfectly; in many universities the hierarchy goes in descending order of control from Board of Trustees, to the President of the University, to the Athletic Director, to the Head Coach. At Penn State, the hierarchy worked in the exact opposite direction (and to say otherwise is purely ignorant, especially when you consider that it was 2002). Everyone was taking orders from JoePa, and whether you believe that aspect of it was right or wrong doesn’t matter. The most powerful man in Pennsylvania washed his hands of it and let Sandusky continue on his merry way for 9 more years. Paterno had a great run of fame, fortune, and a sterling reputation, and I never begrudged him any of that, regardless of how I felt about his coaching ability. But when a man with that much power fails to squash something like this, he deserves to have that reputation tarnished and his legacy somewhat undone. He most certainly could’ve done more than Mike McQueary, but ultimately he really didn’t do anything at all.
The silver lining to this evilness is two-fold. For one thing, Sandusky is in custody. If the legal system does what it is supposed to (the prosecution should just hand the jury that fucking Costas interview and sit back) he will spend the rest of his life behind bars, rotting away, and learning what the jail definition of “horseplay in the showers” really means. Maybe with this man put away and with some time and help courtesy of Penn State University (thanks Jane Leavy) these victims can finally begin to heal. Maybe over time these victims can finally move past the horrors they experienced knowing that no one else will ever suffer at the hands of their oppressor.
The second silver lining is this; all of you tough guys who have sat there and said you would’ve done more than McQueary, that you would’ve blown the whistle on the abuse, here’s your chance. For the rest of your lives remember Sandusky. Remember Mike McQueary, Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, and the PSU Board of Trustees. Most importantly, remember victims one through eight. Remember them so that whenever you see abuse in any form, whether it be bullying of a kid, the striking of a wife, or a beating in the street, you’ll do everything you can to stop it from continuing. Only then will this have done any semblance of good.
That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: http://www.childrensdefense.org/