The football story of the year is The Horror in Happy Valley. But not because an illustrious athletic program has been setback or because a university has been besmirched—a “Public Ivy” university at that—or because JoePa now has to live in infamyville, where he wakes up every morning only to remember that he lost the only game that ever counted.
In the end, he’s Joe Ozymandias, living among the ruins of copper bowls and little bronze men on stands.
But that’s not the reason this is the football story of the year. Nor is it because of the ludicrousness of it all, the howl of it all, including Jerry Sandusky’s lawyer suggesting the reason his client took a shower with the boy was to show him how to use soap. He was merely fulfilling the white man’s burden to offer a little lesson on personal hygiene.
Not that, or even the alleged crimes themselves. It’s not murder after all. Might seem worse to some, but it’s not. And much as you may not want to hear it, children have been sexual prey since well before Plato.
That’s not an excuse, that’s a context. That’s a truth that one can use to explain something horrible or to accept something horrible. It’s to say, "You’re not alone." And as important, "You didn’t do something wrong; something wrong was done to you."
By the way, for those of you who believe in American cultural exceptionalism or that this country gets special moral dispensation, or who think of Somalia—the raping fields of the day—as the land of savages, remember that one out six boys and one out of four girls suffer some kind of sexual abuse before they turn 18. In America.
Or consider this. In the last decade, more than 20,000 children have been killed by their parents. In America. How could that be?
But here’s the point. The most disturbing aspect of The Happy Valley sex scandal is that so many people knew, or should have known or suspected. And none of them did much. At best, they turned the problem over to someone else, who turned it over to still others. Systems didn't work. Individuals didn't work.
Of course, it makes you think of the way the Catholic church—to name just one church—has handled this problem and not handled it. And how by not handling it, the church has brought financial ruin on itself and lost countless parishioners in the process.
A casual reading of this scandal gives the sense that this was a secret shared by a handful of coaches and university officials. But actually, over more than a decade, a lot of people in and out of the university knew about Sandusky’s behavior.
Remember that Center County, Penn. is a small collection of boroughs, of which the most famous is State College, otherwise known as Happy Valley. It was once portrayed by Psychology Magazine as the least stressful place in America and was recently named the safest small city in the country.
A small town where ignorance is just plain bliss.
Here are some points along the way when Sandusky’s behavior was recognized—and might have been stopped. As an aside, remember that Sandusky started The Second Mile in 1977. Are we to believe that his pedophilia took hold of him in 1994, the year the seventh person to come forward says he was abused?
1998: the mother of “Victim No. 6”, the sixth person to come forward, files a complaint with Penn State Police.
2000: James Calhoun, a temporary janitor, sees a crime in progress at the football building. He tells co-workers, but no report is filed.
2002: A graduate student sees a crime in progress, involving, “Victim No. 2." University officials are notified. The Second Mile is notified.
2008: The local school district bans Sandusky from the premises and notifies government authorities as they are required to do by law.
2009: The Pennsylvania AG looks into charges made against Sandusky.
2010: Sandusky quits The Second Mile.
2011: Sandusky is arrested.
But focus on 2002 for a moment. Consider one trail of knowledge, a "chain of speculation" but still revealing.
Mike McQueary was the graduate assistant, now an assistant football coach, who, in 2002, told the Penn State Athletic director, Tim Curley, about seeing Sandusky in a shower with a young boy. Mr. Curley claims he was told about “inappropriate conduct” but no mention of sex. Mr. McQueary claims he told Curley he saw a boy being raped.
At some point, Mr. Curley met with Jack Raykovitz, the long-time CEO of The Second Mile, and relayed what he’d heard about “inappropriate conduct” and added that Sandusky would no longer be permitted on campus. Apparently, Mr. Curley also said there had been an investigation but no wrong-doing found. But then you wonder, why was Sandusky not permitted on campus?
And of course, we’re to believe that that must have been the whole conversation. Raykovitz, a close friend of Sandusky, and incidentally, a psychologist, never asked any questions, never said, “Tim, what do you mean by ‘inappropriate conduct?" No doubt Jack came away thinking this was all a little psychodrama and no one’s business, including members of The Second Mile board—who claim they knew nothing about Sandusky’s penchants.
It was all a mystery to them, including Bradley P. Lunsford, who was on the board between 2001 and 2005. He has been quoted to say, "Not one thing was said to us. Not a damn thing."
And perhaps no one did call Second Mile board members together for a formal meeting to brief them on the situation. Apparently, Raykovitz never did, although there is a story that his wife told a board member. She also had worked at The Second Mile for many years. But what did she say and when did she say it? And who was the board member she told?
It seems impossible that none of the board members knew. Take Bradley P. Lunsford for example. Here's a Penn State grad, a former public defender and prosecutor and, since 2005, a county judge. He’s also a professor at Penn State. According to a listing on Martindale.com, with his name, his practice is family law and includes these practice areas: adoption, divorce, child custody, spousal support and premarital agreements.
Between 2001 and 2005, when Mr. Lunsford served on the Second Mile board, he would have been in contact with people in various parts of the criminal justice system who would have known about Mr. Sandusky’s behavior. That doesn’t mean that Mr. Lunsford had to know, but it’s unlikely that he didn’t know something.
Moreover, as a Centre County assistant prosecutor, Mr. Lunsford would have known or known of Ray Gricar, another county prosecutor. Gricar was the one who decided not to prosecute the 1998 case against Sandusky and then disappeared in 2005 under mysterious circumstances. He is presumed dead.
No connection has ever been established between his disappearance and the case of Sandusky.
The horror in Happy Valley is finally this: people at various levels in the university, in The Second Mile and in the criminal justice system knew about Sandusky's behavior. Or they had heard rumors. Yet no one moved to track down the truth, to confront the powers that be—until a victim came forward.
This is not the only case of sexual abuse involving football players in 2011. There's the matter at Brooklyn’s Poly Prep Country Day School, where another iconic football coach stands accused of “prolonged and horrific sexual abuse." This is the case of the late Phil Foglietta, who people suspected over 40 years, but did nothing because of his imposing win/loss record and because he was so good at fund-raising.
The reason this is the sports story of the year is because sex abuse of children, and abuse of children in general, is always an unexplored story in this society. It’s hard to believe it, it's hard to talk about it, it's hard to confront those responsible, particularly if they're a priest or a coach.
Perhaps, it's time to see competitive football—as it's played in school and college—as an institution, which is, to varying degrees, threatened by a problem that you find in all institutions. And perhaps the NFL has a role to play in encouraging everyone with an interest in the sport to pay closer attention.
The good news is that sports, unlike organized religion, is a forum that encourages a variety of opinions, and the freedom to address any topic. Football in particular has always been a catalyst for positive social change. And now the horror in Happy Valley has given people a chance to remember the danger of not acting, of not protecting those in the society we say we most cherish.