PSU Sandusky Scandal: Trying to Find Words for the Unspeakable

Matt Goldberg@@tipofgoldbergCorrespondent INovember 8, 2011

How does one find the right words for the unspeakable deeds (allegedly) perpetrated by long-time Penn State University defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky?

How does one begin to understand such depraved urges and acts? The words “monstrous” and “heinous” come to my mind, and when you consider that some of  Sandusky’s alleged victims were as young as 10 years old, you question if those very words are strong enough.

If most sportswriters are like me, they cover sports for the games themselves and maybe to learn more about the nature of such things as competition, camaraderie and persistence through adversity. We rejoice in feats of individual brilliance, as well as the type of strategy and teamwork that elevates a collection of players into a team of champions.

Occasionally, we learn more about the human beings who play and coach these games, and we feel inspired. All too often, we are let down by their imperfections, frailties, addictions and scheming ways.

Over time, we accept this as part of the bargain and expand our strike zone to write about and analyze suspensions and the use of performance-enhancing drugs. But it’s one thing to think about PEDs, as distasteful as that issue is; it’s quite another to be confronted with the nightmarish world of pedophilia and predatory behavior.

Reading the 23-page grand jury presentment that led to Sandusky’s indictment and arrest was, admittedly, an act of endurance. I am sure that others also had to walk away a few times with some combination of disbelief, shock and outrage.

In reading this quite graphic report, I found myself crying for the children who were victimized, and praying that those who endured such horrific acts were somehow able to put most of this profound trauma behind them and start to lead happy, productive lives. As you probably did, I wanted to console their families, and I also prayed that there were not more victims than the eight who were identified in the grand jury report.

Truth be told, if the allegations were true, given the duration of time of the incidents (15 years) and Sandusky’s proximity to hundreds of at-risk youth for over 30 years, one has to think that there were even more victims. And of course, learning about even one victim is more than enough to cause outrage and profound sadness.

Where do we go with all of our profound confusion, sadness and outrage? It does not seem enough to simply rail against the situation.

We tend to filter news of this sort—of any sort—through the prism of our own experiences, and fortunately, I have never experienced anything of this sort. Sadly, not everyone reading the grand jury report can say that. But along with whatever adjectives we employ to attempt to give words to this, it must be said that Sandusky’s actions (again, if found to have occurred) were unconscionable, heinous and inexcusable.

While inexcusable, I find myself unable to even understand these atrocities.

Prior to the discovery of these events, I only knew the name Jerry Sandusky as the long-time (1969-1999) assistant coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions. He was given lots of credit for coaching one of the best defenses in the nation year-in and year-out. It was mostly a credit to his tutelage that Penn State—among other things—became known as Linebacker U during the freakishly long Joe Paterno era.

I may have read one or two exemplary things about the Second Mile charity he founded in State College, PA in 1977—an organization whose mission is to give at-risk children help, hope, positive life skills and self-esteem.  Sandusky is married, has children of his own and has adopted six others—in addition to his work with Second Mile.

One of the biggest tragedies of this case, of course, is that the former coach preyed upon the very kids—whom he met through the charity—that he was entrusted with protecting and helping. The report spells out the many ways in which Sandusky used everything from his status, clout, physical size, bribes and gifts to take advantage of these children in the worst ways imaginable.

Perhaps, even Sandusky cannot answer why he went into coaching, why he adopted six children and why he founded his charity. No man or woman is pure evil (with “apologies" to Hitler) and none is a pure angel—with true apologies to Mother Teresa. I tend to believe that Sandusky probably went into these ventures for the right reasons, even if his sickness and depravity somehow enabled him to become such a horrific monster to these unfortunate boys whom he deprived of the very things that he was uniquely entrusted to protect.

The above discussion may not even matter—especially to those who believe that—if found guilty—he should rot in hell for what he perpetrated. And I can't really argue with that point of view.

What hurts—on top of our grieving for the children and their families—is that this is yet another reminder that we don’t really know our neighbors, coaches, colleagues and teachers all that well. So, how do we channel this apparent helplessness?

Sandusky will have his day in court, and we may or may not get some insight into his mindset, as we continue to pray for the eight victims…and how many more who have been subjected to such unspeakable horrors.

Sandusky’s sickness aside, many of us read the report and tried to imagine what we would do if we were in the positions of those who witnessed the crimes. While this discussion deserves much more space, I tend to think that the former 28-year-old graduate assistant (now assistant coach, Mike McQueary) who witnessed Sandusky in the shower with a young boy thought to be 10 years old tried to do the right thing by reporting it to his boss. His boss? Legendary head coach Joe Paterno.

Yes, it would have been better for all concerned (including future victims) if McQueary rescued the child, shielded him, confronted Sandusky and had him arrested on the spot. In the absence of that—and who among us would have acted that heroically— it appears that he did the right thing by reporting it to Coach Paterno.

It is plausible that he left the scene in profound disillusionment and disbelief; he both played and coached with Sandusky, who was almost as iconic a figure in Happy Valley as Paterno.

As for Paterno, now 84 years old and the head coach since 1966, much of the discussion centers around him, as almost anything about Penn State football will. There are calls for the coach to resign and to stand trial for his apparent complicity by his silence.

It appears to many, including me, that Paterno did the absolute minimum after he spoke to McQueary the morning after the incident. Per the report, Paterno called Athletic Director Tim Curley and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz to his home.

Only Joe can answer as to what his intentions were in calling this meeting with Curley and Schultz, and what the nature of the discussion was. We do know that Curley and Schultz did not meet with McQueary until another 10 days had passed, and that nothing was reported to the University police or any other law enforcement agency.

To compound the guilt and shame, no effort was made to ascertain the identity of the young boy who was brutally victimized in the shower and to lend any support to him and his family.

This past Sunday, Curley requested administrative leave and Schultz resumed retirement, and both will stand trial for acts of perjury. They will also get their days in court, and until then, it is reasonable to assert that this has all the makings of a classic cover-up. Not just any cover-up, but one that placed countless children under their watch in harm’s way.

Paterno will not be tried in court, although he will continue to be tried, and sometimes fried, in the various courts of public opinion. And the questions will be quite pointed, and aimed mostly at Paterno (who has not resigned his position) and university president Graham Spanier.

Some of the questions will concern why Sandusky was allowed to continue as defensive coordinator after a shower incident in 1998 that was remarkably similar to the 2002 one that McQueary witnessed. Indeed, after reading the grand jury report (concerning Victim No. 6), it is incredible that Sandusky did not face jail time for his actions, let alone retain his position with the team for another year.

If only out of concern for Sandusky, himself—although, of course, the moral imperative to protect children should have been their primary concern—why did nobody (including Paterno) insist that Sandusky both leave the program and get help for his obvious problems. And yes, why did he barely receive a slap on the wrist.

The details of the report boggle the mind and  not only depict the mindset of a sick predator, but also of a university that conspired to keep his actions (at least those of 1998 and 2002) silent. The unsightly picture is a stark contrast to the very idyllic notion of Happy Valley.

Yes, this had been one of the most respected universities in the country, and the powers-that-be did not show any true concern for the young boys that Sandusky brought into the athletic facilities—for years after he retired.

Until and unless we hear anything to the contrary, Joe Paterno is a part of the perceived cover-up, and that is written while giving him much benefit of doubt. Why did he not demand more of Curley and Schwartz, why didn’t he stand with McQueary and why did he not do anything to reach out to the young boy (2002) and his family?

In the end, nobody stood up to Sandusky, nobody truly stood with the witnesses to his abominable acts and nobody stood up for the children.

Let others speculate about what will happen to the Penn State football program, and about how tarnished Joe Paterno’s legacy will be. I find it a bit premature and almost trivial to do so.

In the meantime, let us consider those innocent, at-risk children who were violated in the most horrific way by a well-respected football coach and father figure who—for whatever his demons—turned into a predatory monster, Let us consider that this happened at one of the most prestigious universities in the country, and under the auspices of perhaps the most respected college football program in the nation, presided over by a true icon.

Let us pray that these heinous crimes are not widespread, but if they do occur, that our authorities and institutions will have the backbone and decency to stand with the victims, their families and the witnesses who also need support.

It is okay to both cry out for our children and demand justice for what was allowed to happen. It seems prudent to allow some time for justice to play out fairly before rushing to even more judgment.

While we take this time, let us offer up our prayers and support for those who have to endure such atrocities and for those who have had the courage to carry on.

Yes, let us hope that some good will come from this, and let us also celebrate the wonderful teachers, coaches, mothers, dads and social workers who truly work to bring help, hope, positive life skills and self-esteem to our wonderful children.

It is true that I (and most of you) would much rather be reading, writing and thinking about something else. So much of my life revolves around sports, and around providing good humor, and the sports pages have suddenly gone very dark.

Of course, despite the horrible stench emanating from this scandal, there are still games to celebrate, and as sports fans we should try to rejoice in the best that sports has to offer. And if we can still share the beauty and joy of sports with our children, let us find a way to do so...and give them the love and support they absolutely need.


As always, thank you for reading. Please check out my other books, blogs and speaking information...from (the)


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