When the story of Sandusky and Penn State football broke last fall, it was startling and truly one of the ugliest stories ever experienced in American sports history. And somehow it kept getting worse until today's release of the Freeh report.
Joe Paterno knew. He knew all along. He knew Sandusky was raping kids in 1998. He knew about it when McQueary told him about the shower incident. He knew when the university asked him to resign. He knew when he ultimately got fired.
The man who preached "Success with Honor" was protecting a child rapist in the interest of not harming the football program. That is his legacy. That is how history will record his life. The wins, the bowl games, the graduation rates and the charity work are all now footnotes.
The Freeh report is damning, repulsive and, to many Penn State alumni, devastating. But how could it possibly be surprising?
The only way the narrative regarding Sandusky and the abuse of the children could make sense would be if Paterno knew what was happening. And as Grand Jury information was leaked and a timeline was established, no other scenario was plausible.
Joe Paterno was the center of the community, so we were told all of these years. Tim Curley was Paterno's superior on a flow chart, but he was handpicked by his former coach for the job. Nobody, not even the board of trustees, was above him.
Sandusky suddenly retired in 1999 at the age when he should have been succeeding Paterno or taking over another program. Did anyone really think that Paterno never asked himself, "Why did he suddenly retire? I could use him!"
Did anyone really think it had no connection with the 1998 abuse? Did even the biggest apologist feel that Paterno had such little curiosity that he never asked?
Then, four years later, McQueary witnessed an attack in the shower. On one hand, we were led to believe that Paterno had so much influence that McQueary went to his old coach before telling the police. On the other hand, we were told that Paterno had such little influence that he passed it along to his "superiors," and that was all he could do.
The narrative never made sense. Who could believe that for the next decade while Sandusky walked on campus and used facilities that Paterno never asked "Whatever happened in that shower incident? Did anyone call the police?"
The concept of confirmation bias ran rampant among Paterno supporters. No matter how little sense the story made and how many contradictions were in the narrative, they claimed he did everything he could.
For those without Happy Valley loyalty, the chain of events made sense, and they were confirmed by Freeh.
Obviously, something has to happen to Penn State Football, and a fine or some scholarships revoked are not going to cut it. If a great program like SMU could be derailed because of booster payments, what should happen to a program that protected the raping of children for over a decade?
There needs to be a detoxification of football in Happy Valley. The importance of the Nittany Lions games on Saturdays and the profits they generate have caused grown intelligent men to weigh the pros and cons of arresting a pedophile. And the culture of that mania led to anger-sparked riots—not over the protection of a child rapist but the firing of the most prominent conspirator.
The community needs to shift their focus away from football for a while and let the cult of Paterno fade away.
I think a decade without football would be a small price to pay to get a community's priorities straight.
In full disclosure, this author is a casual college football fan at best with no axe to grind regarding Penn State University. This is not a post from a gloating Ohio State fan or a bitter USC fan. My alma mater, New York University, had no football team.
My thoughts on Paterno prior to the scandal were minimal. The only two times I can remember thinking about him was being angry that he won Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year in 1986 over Larry Bird and seeing him coach in the early 2000s and thinking, "I thought he retired."
I also never even heard of Jerry Sandusky until the scandal broke. As shocking as this may be for college football fans, most people in the country were first introduced to Joe Paterno through this scandal.