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Penn State Shame

Who plays defense for the children?

Up until last Sunday, I didn’t really know anything about Penn State. And now all I know is its shame.

The first time I heard a reference to the school’s awful sex abuse scandal was when a friend posted something on her Facebook wall: “Not so happy in Happy Valley.” Not understanding the familiar reference to the university, I assumed she meant the power was out in town again.

Now, there’s no choice but to understand the sad irony that there is little happiness left in University Park, PA, the home of the university with the legions of football fans, an adored now-former longtime head coach and a black cloud of disgraceful revelations hanging overhead.

Prosecutors in the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office have charged Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, with the sexual assault of at least eight young boys. According to published timelines, the abuse stretches back at least to 1998, and perhaps further.

As accounts started to come to light over the years and intensely within the last few days, the horror became even more horrible: People knew that the abuse had taken place, and yet chose to either cover it up or not report it, likely to protect a football program and its revered legend. This included fellow coaches and university employees who allegedly witnessed instances of rape, university officials and perhaps others.

And so it was tacitly allowed to continue, and who knows how many more victims the scandal claimed as a result.

In other words: Children were sacrificed all in the name of a football program.

The closest I get to Penn State is that I was born in Pennsylvania and lived there for a year after I was born. I come to this story with the perspective of knowing nothing at all about the hallowed history of the Penn State football program or the 84 year old coach Joe Paterno, who I’ve now come to learn, helmed the team as an untouchable, sainted figure. I’m not a college football fan, although I know enough about sports psychology and pop culture to understand the allegiance of those who are conflicted about the ramifications of all that has happened.

So I can only look at this through the best lens I know how: Why was this horror allowed to go on for as long as it did, and why did no one stand up for the children?

Because, despite one man’s legendary leadership, despite a storied football program, despite a philosophy they all preached about living by a strong moral code… despite all this, the grossly immoral acts Sandusky has been charged with are compounded by the hypocritical inaction of others, men supposedly living by a moral code of higher standards themselves.

As the parent of children in the age range of the reported victims I am deeply saddened at another display of people in power who hurt children using the cover of charity and subterfuge. I am further disheartened that so few in the circles that ripple outward from the events’ epicenter seem torn about what is right.

Those that abetted Sandusky by their silence; those in leadership who placed football over moral right; the students, alumni and fans who have since protested subsequent disciplinary events—like Paterno’s firing—either by rioting on campus or through change.org petitions supporting Paterno; these are people whose actions I have a hard time understanding.

In this situation I can’t see the gray area. To me there is no moral quandary.

Unless we learn this, we can never be sure that the next time someone will stand up to defend the children.

Mose Hazo November 12, 2011 at 03:20 PM
Your commentary is very well stated. There is much to be learned from what has happened: (1) institutional responsibility; (2) character of the leadership; (3) perspective; and (4) knowing what is moral as well as legal. Please see the commentary by Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated which details the problems in deifying athletic programs and coaches to the detriment of their communities: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/stewart_mandel/11/11/penn-state-joe-paterno-culture/index.html?xid=polarmobile
Joe Burke November 12, 2011 at 04:18 PM
What makes this more troubling is that Paterno was viewed as one of the good guys in college football. For many years he was "the" coach with integrity who held football players to higher standards-no short cuts or Florida State type of win at any cost nonsense. Joe Paterno was likable, credible and successful. His profound lack of judgement and unwillingness to do what he had to know was the right thing is deeply troubling.
Beth Staropoli November 12, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Very sad story for such a well admired institution. There is no excuse for anyone, including the graduate student who witnessed the incident, coaches and administrators to have turned a blind eye. I personally can not comprehend how anyone who witnessed this act could not have intervened and STOPPED it immediately and called authorities. Coach Paterno has been fired, enough about him, now the media must focus on the rapist who is out on bail, SANDUSKY. There are entire articles in every paper, none of which mention SANDUSKY as more than a mere secondary character to this story. He's a child rapist and the focus and photo's should be of him! The other's in PSU are guilty of negligence however that's a far cry from being guilty of child rape. PSU acted appropriately by firing Paterno and others, but now focus of the fact that an ignorant judge allowed this child rapist, SANDUSKY to be free on bail, go home and hide while the rest of the victims and PSU suffer. Once again our justice system failed those poor victims and the media has managed to do the same thing the staff at PSU did, which is ignore the real monster and focus on the iconic coach, because he is the one who sells the news. All justified by sales and not for support of the victims. Deeply troubling indeed!.......Beth Staropoli
Brian Kesselman November 12, 2011 at 05:49 PM
Beth, you make an excellent point about the lack of focus on Sandusky. Unfortunately, I think there is just not enough public information to satisfy the media producers or consumers about him and his crimes. The resulting vacuum gets filled with stories about people and institutions that have a wealth of public interest and are the subject of many opinions. I've commented elsewhere about how saddened I am as an alumni witnessing this situation play out. Instead of rehashing that here, I will share a link to a (long) article that I think expresses my thoughts eloquently. Thanks to my wife who shared this article with me and to Heather who continues to inspire public conversations about topics great and small. http://joeposnanski.si.com/2011/11/10/the-end-of-paterno/?sct=cf_t11_a5 - a Nittany Lion who is more Blue than White today.
RHS Parent November 12, 2011 at 06:28 PM
As the Patriot News has said, reporters have to be careful about printing hearsay v. facts. There seems to be soo much more to Sandusky's story. Was Dottie complicit? That historically has happened in marriages of a pedophile. Should she be investigated too and possibly charged? If she was aware, how could she have supported and condoned Jerry having six adoptions and four foster children? Not an excuse but delving just a little into Jerry Sandusky's childhood and it seems that his father may have been the same. Could Jerry have been a victim too? All this may be salacious for reporting at this time, but will be news eventually when the facts and history unfolds. There will be much focus on the Sandusky's and their story but right now it's speculative. The only saving grace is that this tragedy will bring more attention to this horror and give victims the ability to come forward without shame.
Linda November 13, 2011 at 04:56 AM
I am close with a grown man now, who was sexually abused at the age of 13. This bright, full of life, and smart child, with a future filled with bright possibilities, became someone else. Kept his secret until recently when his body physically and emotionally couldn't keep the secret anymore. He still will not talk about it or name the person who did this. I know first hand the YEARS of torture, mental anguish, and loss of potential this man has suffered all due to the sick, selfish, perverted acts of a horrible pedophile. I have no sympathy for Joe Paterno and Penn State. All I can think of is those poor, innocent kids who I know for sure are still suffering and will never feel 'whole'. Shame on all involved!
David Garlock November 13, 2011 at 01:55 PM
The sad truth that underlies this ugly scandal and alleged cover-up is closely related to the national disgrace of our educational system's widespread money-hungry venality and criminal abdication of leadership and responsibility -- an infection that crept into and corrupted our whole system many decades ago. Moral rectitude (on many levels, e.g., academic honesty, protocol that discourages inappropriate student-techer relationships, standards of civil behavior, etc,) is trumped by crude commercialization, obsession with "branding" educational institutions (as if they were "selling" some "useful" product, rather than cultivating human minds and souls), fanaticism surrounding so-called "sports" in lieu of cultivating physical development of individuals and promotion of health (one has little to do with the other), and the training of academics to compete in a murderous tenure-driven triathlon -- all of these festering pustules that disfigure our educational system, from grade school through grad school, need to be eradiated, or at least reexamined. Billions spent (and misspent in many cases) on enterprises that have little to do with the moral and intellectual development of our nation's most valuable resource - our maleable and vulnerble children and young adults. When in bloody hell are we going to re-assume our adult responsibilities? David Garlock, Ph.D. Wilton resident (and discouraged teacher)
Elyse November 13, 2011 at 02:54 PM
The statement below about sums up the Penn State situation, and it's a sad statement on society that this action (ignoring what is morally wrong) continues in sports, religion, your workplace,... "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." – Edmund Burke
Eustace Tilley November 13, 2011 at 05:04 PM
Well said David... I don't know the root cause(s) nor do I know the answers but unfortunately our society's definition of success is cash not character. Are we teaching it at home, reinforcing it at Church or at the schools, in the office, in Government and on the playing fields...

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