Is Penn State Scandal Just Getting Started?

James MorisetteCorrespondent IIIJuly 22, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, PA - JANUARY 22: Students and those in the community gather around the statue of Joe Paterno, the former Penn State football coach who died earlier in the morning, outside Beaver Stadium on the campus of Penn State on January 22, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania. Paterno, who was 85, died due to complications from lung cancer. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

At roughly 6 a.m. Sunday, a team of blue-collar workers with white hardhats and lime green reflective vests showed up outside Beaver Stadium. These men fenced off the area before Joe Paterno’s statue of him bravely leading young men into football battle—and into life.

As Paterno’s statue came down, I could not help recall images of Sadaam Hussein’s statue coming down in Baghdad—albeit more peaceful. Call it dramatic, but the removal of both statues was symbolic of the swift removal of monsters whose toxic actions destroyed many lives.

Like many people who read former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s report on the Penn State scandal, I could not help but be appalled at just how many people passed the buck for so many years. Nor could I not help but feel terrible for children who got caught in the crossfire of grown adults who had neither the courage nor the willpower to do what was right.

The Penn State case gives by far one of the most vivid lessons of failed leadership (and failed parenting).

That said, with the removal of Paterno’s statue, Penn State has shown its hand to quickly move forward so it can begin the process of “healing.”

But based on press releases related to the removal of Paterno’s statue, I cannot help but wonder if there is more than meets the eye with this unfortunate situation.

While ESPN filmed the removal of Paterno’s statue, a statement from Penn State president Rodney Allen Erickson scrolled down the screen.

A portion of Erickson’s full statement reads:

Since we learned of the Grand Jury presentment and the charges against Jerry Sandusky and University officials last November, members of the Penn State community and the public have been made much more acutely aware of the tragedy of child sexual abuse.
Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to those victims of Mr. Sandusky and all other victims of child abuse. I assure you that Penn State will take a national leadership role in the detection and prevention of child maltreatment in the months and years ahead.

Erickson proceeded to say that Paterno’s name will remain on a library on campus, symbolic of Penn State’s commitment to being a learning institution first and foremost.

Near the end of Erickson’s statement, he said:

The world will be watching how Penn State addresses its challenges in the days ahead.  While some may take issue with the decisions I have made, I trust that everyone associated with our University will respond in a civil and respectful manner.

Interestingly, a few moments later, the Paterno family released a statement, indicative that this scandal is not yet over.

This statement reads:

Tearing down the statue of Joe Paterno does not serve the victims of Jerry Sandusky's horrible crimes or help heal the Penn State Community. We believe the only way to help the victims is to uncover the full truth.

The Freeh report, though it has been accepted by the media as the definitive conclusion on the Sandusky scandal, is the equivalent of an indictmenta charging document written by a prosecutor—and an incomplete and unofficial one at that.

To those who truly want to know the truth about Sandusky, it should matter that Joe Paterno has never had a hearing; that his legal counsel has never been able to interview key witnesses, all of whom are represented by lawyers and therefore unavailable; that there has never been an opportunity to review critical evidence which has not been made public; that selective evidence and the opinion of Mr Freeh is treated as the equivalent of a fair trial.
Despite this obviously flawed and one-sided presentation, the University believes it must acquiesce and accept that Joe Paterno has been given a fair and complete hearing. We think the better course would have been for the University to take a strong stand in support of due process so that the complete truth can be uncovered.
It is not the University's responsibility to defend or protect Joe Paterno. But they at least should have acknowledged that important legal cases are still pending and that the record on Joe Paterno, the Board and other key players is far from complete.

From the Paterno family's rebuttal, three key things stand out.

First, the Paterno family wants due process. They are not going to simply lie down and accept everything expressed in Freeh’s report. This tells me the Paterno family wants the public to hear all information related to this case.

Second, the Paterno statement used the word “acquiesce” to describe the university’s acceptance of punishment. This is a very strong word to use, and points perhaps to people at higher levels pulling strings to close the loop on this thing.

Third, the Paterno family addresses the media, which has, in their opinion, countered due process. In other words, the Paternos think the press has again proven someone guilty before the court chose to do so.

These thoughts in mind, is Penn State moving swiftly so it can begin the process of healing? Or is the university moving to brush the scandal under the rug, i.e. swiftly removing Paterno’s statue and accepting ‘unprecedented’ NCAA punishment? 

Furthermore, what else does Penn State know that the public does not?  Could it be that the Paterno family—now pushed into a corner—are now willing and ready to let multiple cats out of the bag: cats the university does not want released?

Who knows?

But from Freeh’s report, combined with Erickson’s statement and the Paterno family’s rebuttal, one thing becomes crystal clear.

The Penn State scandal may not be coming to an end.

It may just be getting started.

And for the kids (now adults) caught in the midst of this awful tragedy, this is sickening, to say the least.


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