The Jerry Sandusky Scandal: Joe Paterno's Actions Were Not Enough

Zach TravisContributor INovember 7, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Head coach Joe Paterno talks with the media following thier 27-11 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide at Beaver Stadium on September 10, 2011 in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

It is easy to lose our sense of perspective when it comes to scandals in college football.

Think of all the things you have spent the last year of your college football-loving life shaking your head in disgust at.  There was Cecil Newton soliciting a payment for his son's services at a school other than the one where Cam would eventually win a national championship and a Heisman trophy.  

There was also Jim Tressel's willful deception for the sake of a competitive advantage in some regular-season games and the Sugar Bowl.  

Oregon bought some out-of-date scouting reports that may or may not have been payments to a third party capable of delivering players.  

Finally, and most morally reprehensible, was the Nevin Shapiro scandal at Da U; this one complete with prostitutes, lavish parties, expensive gifts and even a report of an abortion payment.

We, the college sports-loving public, have spent so much time outraged at the degradation of our sport, so overcome with disgust at what are a series of escalating attempts to win at any cost—and face it, everything from Newton to Nevin has been about winning at its basest level (even a ego-maniacal lowlife like Shapiro knows the friends you buy aren't worth anything unless they are winners)—that news of the emerging sexual abuse scandal at Penn State was like grabbing on to a live wire with your right hand after getting shocked by a novelty handshake buzzer on your left hand: a violent dose of perspective.

This is the worst college football scandal that we have ever seen, and not because of lying or cheating to gain competitive advantage.  This doesn't offend our sense of fair play or honor, or victimize our delusions that the game we watch is somehow pure in its goals or its stated purpose of amateurism. This is the worst scandal in the history of college football because in this scandal, innocent children were the victims, and no one stepped in to help.

The details are horrifying and laid out in sickening detail in the Grand Jury report (warning: extremely graphic descriptions of Sandusky's actions.  Not for the faint of heart).  There is no sugarcoating what happened.  This was a case of longstanding, shrewdly calculated sexual abuse perpetrated by a man with more power and influence than all but a few people in his community.

Jerry Sandusky was the defensive coordinator for Penn State for 23 years and had previously played football for Penn State under Joe Paterno.  Sandusky was a well-regarded member of the Penn State athletic community and started a foundation called "The Second Mile," which had the stated mission of helping at-risk boys coming from bad situations.

What The Second Mile really was: a tool that Sandusky used to prey on young boys from bad or unstable family environments, and Sandusky used his power and influence earned as coordinator of one of the most successful, highly-regarded football programs in the country to gain the trust of parents, coaches, secondary school officials and worst of all, the numerous young boys he molested.

Over the roughly 10-year period which the Grand Jury investigation covers, Sandusky would routinely be accompanied by young boys to Penn State-related athletic events, sometimes having them stay with him in hotel rooms in conjunction with Penn State-related team activities.  Sandusky had numerous young boys stay over at his private residence and was given unfettered access to these children by secondary school officials during and after-school hours.  However, most sickening is the fact that Sandusky used the Penn State football facilities (specifically the Lasch Football Building) as his own private area in which to carry out heinous acts of child abuse.

There should have been a number of bright red warning signs going off for people closely involved with Sandusky: His mood swings and needy behavior around boys involved in The Second Mile program, the numerous occasions in which young boys spent time in his private residence overnight and the continued use of Penn State facilities and privileges in an effort to take advantage of these boys.

There should have been serious inquiries when graduate assistant Mike McQueary reported to Joe Paterno in 2002 that he witnessed Sandusky engaging in sexual activity in the Lasch Football Building showers or when Paterno relayed that information to athletic director Tim Curley and Senior VP of Finance and Business Gary Schultz, when "Victim 4" would "frequently" stay with Sandusky without a parent or Sandusky's wife present at the team hotel prior to Penn State home games, or after a janitor witnessed Sandusky performing sex acts on another young boy, again in the Lasch Football Building.

All in all, the Grand Jury report specifies eight victims that were abused anywhere from a couple times to many times over the course of months.  Sandusky has been charged with seven counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, eight counts of corruption of minors, eight counts of endangering the welfare of a child and seven counts of indecent assault.

Jerry Sandusky was able to do all of this as an ambassador for Penn State athletics, using his former position in the football program, and his privileges around campus to supply him with places to commit these crimes and perks with which to bribe these children.  Worse, this behavior was allowed to continue for over a decade because of the inaction of those at Penn State.

* * *

It is admittedly hard to write a column on something like this while keeping your emotions in check.  I have read a couple other writers' takes on this situation and even the best get caught up in the moment, start the typical "outraged newspaper man" tirade, call for "heads to roll" (a phrase I summarily cut from this piece when I noticed that it had somehow slipped through my keyboard in a moment I must have been temporarily possessed by the spirit of Rick Reilly circa late-2000s).  The disgust almost drips from the words on the screen, the anger palpable.

I don't know exactly what it is.  Are most sportswriters just less equipped to handle serious subjects without digressing into a carnal fervor?  The sporting world is so full of passion, anger and the unencumbered emotion that surrounds games that really only matter because a large enough collection of people agree that they matter.  

Is it only natural then, that when presented with something as deadly serious and horrific as this, that someone who makes his living fanning the flames of emotion that come from comparisons between quarterback ratings and long-winded anti-BCS rants would experience the same sort of circuit overload as a fuse box struck by lightning—a quick blast of light and sound and black smoke leaving in its wake a burnt out and useless fuse.

Or is this simply a natural reaction to reading a 23-page Grand Jury report that goes into explicit detail concerning one powerful man's use of the charitable organization which he set up to gain access to young boys that he would molest, shower with gifts and then throw tantrums over when the scarred and broken young boys would eventually pull away?  Isn't this outrage exactly how one is supposed to feel?

It is hard to make it through all 23 pages of the report without getting up in arms and letting the rage take over.  These were children.  Boys as young as seven and as old as 13, who were put in the supervision of a sexual predator who was not only professionally, but financially successful, a coach at one of the highest levels of sport.  

We as a society prefer our threat from sexual predators to be localized to trailer parks and jail cells. Something deep inside us wants to believe that the thing that is so fundamentally broken in these people—the thing that allows them to commit such unspeakable acts on children—translates easily to low socioeconomic status or general joblessness.  It flies in the face of our sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair when someone capable of systematically isolating and abusing children is someone we might easily respect in another circumstance.  It's why it is so easy to laugh at a show like To Catch a Predator.  These people are broken.  They aren't like us.  They couldn't possibly be.

What does this have to do with Gary Schultz, Tim Curley and Joe Paterno?  More than you think.

The university president has already come out in support of Schultz and Curley, both of whom are charged with perjury and failure to report child abuse:

With regard to the other presentments, I wish to say that Tim Curley and Gary Schultz have my unconditional support. I have known and worked daily with Tim and Gary for more than 16 years. I have complete confidence in how they have handled the allegations about a former University employee.  Tim Curley and Gary Schultz operate at the highest levels of honesty, integrity and compassion. I am confident the record will show that these charges are groundless and that they conducted themselves professionally and appropriately.

Joe Paterno himself has even released a statement:

I understand that people are upset and angry, but let’s be fair and let the legal process unfold. In the meantime I would ask all Penn Staters to continue to trust in what that name represents, continue to pursue their lives every day with high ideals and not let these events shake their beliefs nor who they are.

A strange choice of words Paterno used.  It seems clear to me that the word "trust" shouldn't be anywhere near the Penn State athletic department.  The university's administration and Paterno claim that the proper action was taken and that those involved did all that was necessary.

Dan Wetzel doesn't buy it, and neither do I.

When presented with evidence of any impropriety toward a child on Penn State's campus, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz and Joe Paterno had a responsibility to act.  Even if the scope of Sandusky's actions in that shower was unclear, the very fact that a grown man and young boy were unsupervised in the Penn State locker room shower after hours merits more of a response than simply running it up the chain.

These three men failed to act despite knowing of a previous child services investigation into Sandusky in 1998 and Paterno seeing how distraught and traumatized McQueary was (the 28-year-old man who simply witnessed the act, for God's sake) upon reporting what he had seen. Even the supposed punishment—a ban from bringing children into Penn State athletic facilities—was admitted to be unenforceable by Tim Curley, the man who saw the punishment as fitting.

* * *

Our culture clings to the notion that sexual predators are outsiders because the truth is too much to handle: There is a remote possibility that people who are capable of this behavior live in our communities, spend time around our children and gain our trust and admiration while concealing their crimes.  It is a terrifying thought, one that former Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington sums up well: “Because I am also a father and because the thought of one of my kids coming home and saying something bad happened to them like that, I can’t even think about it."

If sexual predators don't only exist on the fringes of society, if these things don't just occur on episodes of Law and Order: SVU, then we need something else for our collective peace of mind.  We need the comfort of knowing that when these things happen that someone will speak up for those who can't defend themselves.

By the letter of the law, Joe Paterno is most likely innocent while Schultz and Curley are mainly guilty of trying to cover their ass after taking the easy way out.  However, each man was presented with evidence of possible child molestation and not one acted in the best interest of the child.  In fact, no one even bothered to find out who the boy was.

Should the university clean house and remove everyone who was involved but failed to step in to stop Sandusky?  Apparently, that is already the case as both Schultz and Curley have stepped down as of Sunday night.

However, if Joe Paterno and the university are serious about the statements each made regarding trust, integrity and compassion, then the coach needs to be completely open and honest about what happened, how it was overlooked and how it was allowed to continue for nine more years.

Joe Paterno has done a lot of good in his life, but as I was told at a young age, "It is the things you do when no one's looking that count."  In 2002, when no one was looking, Joe Paterno did nothing; Tim Curley did nothing; Gary Schultz did nothing, and Jerry Sandusky was able to live as a free man for nine additional years because of it.

Tim Curley and Gary Schultz have both already stepped aside.  Paterno needs to be big enough to admit that he was wrong and his inaction kept a child molester free.  Only then can Penn State and Paterno come to a decision about his future with the program.  

Or, more appropriately, how he wishes to step down as head coach.


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