The Nittany Liars
One hardly knows where to begin. What is football worth? What is a university worth if its own wellbeing is more important than the wellbeing of the very people it exists to protect and value? What happens when a university trades the lives of young boys for its reputation? Make no mistake, that is the transaction that occurred. The very lives of the victims are in play. For the rest of their lives, they will deal with the acts perpetrated on them by Jerry Sandusky in the locker rooms of Penn State. The future lives, intimate relations with their spouses, and the self-worth of the victims have all been horribly assaulted and damaged. How much nobody knows.
During Coach Joe Paterno’s reign, the honorable and decent football players that made Penn State proud celebrated 37 bowl game appearances and 3 national championships in and around that locker room and shower. And Jerry Sandusky allegedly performed oral sex on 8 - 11 year old boys in that same shower, bringing equal shame on the university. But it’s not that shame that motivates this article, it is the greater shame: That Penn State intentionally hid these acts in order to protect itself. One can understand (at some level, at least) that a man can have a sickness that could cause this type of repulsive, destructive and sociopathic behavior. But from what sickness(es) did the university executives suffer? Common ones: Greed and self-interest. These are harder to excuse.
SAY IT AIN’T SO, JOE
As sad as it makes me to say this, even Coach Paterno gets no pass on this. Sure, he told his superiors. Good start. But every day as a top-flight coach, Paterno does something that ensures his continued success: He follows up. He doesn’t just assumethat his coaches have a great game plan for Saturday, he checks as the week goes by, he prepares, and he takes nothing for granted. That’s what’s made him one of the winningest coaches in college history.
The fact that nothing happened to Sandusky didn’t “escape his notice.” Sandusky was one of his best friends. He himself had been told by an eye witness that Sandusky was sodomizing a 10 year old boy in the shower. Not, “in a compromising situation,” not “sitting too close,” not “acting inappropriately,” not even “showering with,” but sodomizinghim. Yes, Paterno told his supervisors. But Paterno had culpable knowledge, and if none of his higher-ups did the right thing, it was his responsibility to do it. Of course that’s going to be difficult, even agonizing. It would take strength, it would take character, it would require overcoming pain, and it would take courage. These are the very things Coach Paterno required of his players for the last 46 years, and they have the right to expect the same thing from him. In the end, he was asking from his players what he himself was not prepared to give. It’s one thing to be brave on a football field, it’s another thing to be brave in the real world. Coach Paterno apparently didn’t have the right stuff.
So far, the list of unnamed minors who were allegedly assaulted by Sandusky has reached 9. “#7” is the first known victim, allegedly meeting Sandusky through “Second Mile,” an organization that Sandusky founded to help disadvantaged children “…who need additional support and who would benefit from positive human contact.” The wording, one hopes, is unintentionally ironic. And at this point I want to point out that almost certainly the majority of people involved in Second Mile are caring, giving people who knew nothing about Sandusky’s alleged activities prior to this incident. But some did. I also want to point out that this is not an indictment against the vast majority of the fine people who work at Penn State. Obviously, two men at “the top” wagered the university’s good name against a scandal and couldn’t cover the bet.
It’s alleged that the first known victim to be “taken to the showers” by Sandusky was an 8 year old boy in 1994. According to ESPN; in the fall of 2000, “A janitor named James Calhoun observes Sandusky in the showers of the Lasch Football Building with a young boy, known as Victim 8, pinned up against the wall, performing oral sex on the boy. He tells other janitorial staff immediately.”
The janitor reports the incident to his supervisor who tells no one.
ESPN continues; “March 1, 2002 A Penn State graduate assistant enters the locker room at the Lasch Football Building. In the showers, he sees a naked boy, known as Victim 2, whose age he estimates to be 10 years old, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky. The graduate assistant tells his father immediately.”
This time, the graduate assistant reports the sighting to Paterno personally—at Paterno’s house the next morning. Paterno reports the incident to Athletic Director Tim Curley. Later in the month, the graduate assistant is called before Curley and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business (note the job title) Gary Schultz, where he tells them in detail what he had seen. They now know everything—and they knew they were responsible for what they did with that information.
The University took swift, decisive action: They took away Sandusky’s locker room keys. The implicit but unavoidable implication of that action was that the concern was not that little boys were being raped by Sandusky, but that the rapes were happening on the Penn State campus.
Oh, and for good measure, they reported the incident to Second Chance, Sandusky’s own organization. In a manner of speaking, they simply warned an alleged pedophile that he had been reported. Unconscionable. No police organization followed up with the graduate assistant. One might argue that they thought he was innocent or wrongly accused. If so, why did they take away his locker room key? No, their actions indicate that they believed the report.
But it gets worse. Way back in 1998, a mother of one of the victims reported Sandusky to the university police for alleged improprieties in the shower with her pre-teen boy. The campus police “investigated.” Along with local police, they questioned Sandusky and he apologized for showering with the boy, and stated, “I understand. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness.…I wish I were dead.” Quite a reaction for simply showering with a boy. If the information on this incident was not passed on to university executives by campus police, yet another investigation must be started. But regardless of whether or not it was passed up the chain, the university did nothing.
If the allegations against Sandusky and the reports of the graduate assistant are true; the university executives share responsibility for whatever happened to every single defenseless boy at the hands of Sandusky after the graduate assistant reported the incident. They share it as much as if they had been in the shower with Sandusky holding the boys down, for they are the ones that made those rapes possible.
It’s been reported that universities are insular places and appear to “circle the wagons” in self-protection with greater gusto than any police “blue code of silence.” Universities depend upon donors for money, reputation for students and sports to attract both. The circular reasoning of some is obviously that if the university is healthy, well-funded and well-populated, then more young people will benefit. In a way, it’s a little like idol worship; “The university above all.” It’s just that success might require sacrificing a few virgins in the showers.
Where have we come to when universities all over the country are putting expedience before honor, wrong before right, and self-interest above altruism? Don’t universities believe that they have some type of corner on that market? Campus security professionals have told me of their great frustration with universities that minimize and hide bad behavior and criminality among its students, staff and faculty to avoid trouble and keep the donations and the applications coming in. Scandals are expensive.
The problem is exacerbated by the “yes men” (and women) that universities sometimes appoint as their regents. Think about it—they choose their own watchdogs. The regents get benefits, and almost to a person, they are boosters of the school. Also, it is not unheard of (and incredibly easy) for regents to be kept in the dark by university administrators. I would be surprised if any Penn State regent had any idea of the Sandusky allegations before they heard them on ESPN.
Michael Jackson is dead today because he surrounded himself with people who would say yes to his every whim, never challenge him or disagree with him, and never tell him “no.” Universities can fall victim to the same pitfall. Many corporate executives consider a backbone to be a birth defect. This is almost certainly true in academia, too, as evidenced by Penn State. Sadly, the home to the brave Nittany Lions football team has become the academic equivalent of Michael Jackson, and while Penn may not die, it’s going to be very sick for a long, long time.
Universities must have more accountability. They’re not going to get it from parental groups, because the members (once again) are chosen by the university executives, frequently on their ability to provide financial resources and contacts, not on the hopes that they will “change things.” (The fox watching the hen house, in other words.) And there is much to lose for a parent “advisor” if they openly criticize a university their child is attending.
What strikes me most now is the blood-bath which is occurring at Penn State. Sandusky, of course is long gone. But now Paterno is gone. Curley and Schultz are gone. It appears that the President of the University will be ousted before the week is out. Who knows how many will follow? In a way, this is the greatest indictment yet of Penn State. Within days, the university ended the careers of some of its most senior executives and its most famous and beloved coach to protect its reputation.
How many careers was Penn State willing to end to protect the lives of 10 year old boys?