10 Nov

The Nittany Lion

I was an undergrad at Penn State during Joe Paterno football glory years, and a grad at Indiana when Bobby Knight ruled. In both schools, I was an editor on the school daily newspaper, the Collegian at the former and the Ids at the latter–this meant I heard plenty, even though my area was the arts. When the Penn State scandal broke, I was called by friends who knew that was my alma mater, and by my older sister, who also attended. Unlike her, I was never a football fan. Students got free tickets then, and I occasionally accompanied friends, but always with a paperback book. Paterno? I liked the way he pushed his students to take academics seriously, and I liked the way the NCAA never found any problems with monetary lures to recruits–he didn’t need to hold out those temptations. I’ve heard my mother (a well-informed sports fan in her 90’s) say for years that Joe should go, but I know how colleges work, and I know how the Penn State Alumni Association works–football pays for plenty in Happy Valley, its rep keeps the alumni buying special Nittany Lions license plates, and Joe Paterno was its high priest. I’m no acolyte, however. Did I used to hear about football players and other athletes date raping girls at drunken frat parties (albeit in the years before “date rape” was a term)? Yep. Did I used to hear about girls who weren’t raped making accusations just to get some guy in trouble after rejection? Yep. And I believe both types of incidents occurred multiple times, as they have also played out in many other universities across the country. Did I believe Joe Paterno was personally responsible for getting to the bottom of these incidents? Nope.

And now to the present. If you’d asked me last week about Joe Paterno, I would have been indifferent towards his presence and his legacy. I got a

Overturned news van due to rioting student Paterno supporters

solid education at Penn State, and remember my professors with fondness. Maybe his winning football team enabled some of their hires; if so, I thank him. But the present actions demand something besides indifference. I’d like to give the idiot students who rioted on his behalf, overturning a news truck and attempting to interfere with firefighters’ attempts to clean the resultant oil spill a kick in the pants and suspension. Their sophomoric antics (irresistible word choice) makes Happy Valley look like an asylum for idiots. Doesn’t shock me–there;s always been a lot of drinking there, and it’s a powerful fuel. But when I read that tear-stained girls are sobbing that JoePa WAS the university–well, it makes me want to puke. That demonstrates such a skewed image of what a university should be and who makes it–but it’s a view many Boards of Trustees have themselves endorsed.

The incidents involving former assistant coach Sandusky are criminal, disgusting and well deserving of investigation. But the results of investigations so far have not all been published, and they are ongoing. Like others, I’m going to jump in with a knee-jerk reaction, based only on what I know. Who cares? Nobody, nor should they. I’m neither a member of the judiciary nor of law enforcement. But here, the result of numerous conversations, are my thoughts on the matter nonetheless:

1. The Republicans will put up a secret shrine to Joe and PSU in general. The press has honed in on this as if no University has hosted a serious crime of any type before, and distracted from election losses and fumbling presidential candidates.

Joe Paterno with team

2. Joe Paterno has a national name, recognized by many who never attended Penn State; that makes him a story with legs. Though I heard about the following stories, they never became the topic of everyone’s national conversation: former University of New Mexico ex-PRESIDENT being arrested for running an online prostitution ring, along with a Fairleigh Dickinson physics professor; University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business prof arrested for his own filmed pedophilic sex acts on a laptop he traveled with; another Wharton prof (remember, Penn State is the state flagship school, Penn–or U of P–is the Ivy League institution) murdered his wife; there’s the University of Alabama prof who went on a rampage, killing three and shooting three more; and, just to add more to a far-from-exhausted list, there are many rapes, reported and unreported, of students by campus professors.

3. Joe Paterno, unlike his superiors to whom he reported an incident he didn’t see, has not been an investigative target. Reports vary; in some, he told only the Head of Athletics what a grad student had told him; in others, he told both fired University officials. If the latter is true, Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz was ultimately  in charge of the campus police, who number over 50 and have 150 auxiliary members (State College town police include 65 full-time officers,  14 full– and part-time civilian employees, plus crossing guards). Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley have been arrested for perjury, and did not report the case to the police; they apparently told the university’s president, Graham Spanier, who was sacked by the Board of Trustees yesterday, as was Paterno.  Should Paterno have been fired? I don’t think so. He followed an established chain–they failed the university, their consciences, and the child, and deserve to go down. USA Today reported, “Paterno informed athletics director Tim Curley but didn’t follow up when Curley, Spanier and others failed to go to police or child-protection authorities.” How would Paterno even know that they failed to go to the police or child protection agencies? University officials are far from transparent and forthcoming regarding their actions.

4. Could Joe have done more? Many say he deserved the firing because he was part of the cover-up. He reported it to his superiors, so I don’t see

Mike McQueary, witness to the incident when a grad student

how he was part of a cover-up. The direct criminal was already an ex-employee at the time of the incident. While in retrospect I’m sure he’s sorry he didn’t take out public ads in the newspaper at the time, viewing things in retrospect is not all that helpful. And if one does so, one figure emerges as problematic–and it isn’t Joe. It’s the grad student Mike McQueary who saw the incident, and didn’t interfere–yet the only mention of calling him out that I’ve seen is in a group of internet comments on the Philadelphia Inquirer’s website. Why didn’t he at least shout or shove when he saw what was happening? McQueary was a former player and grad student then, but currently the recievers coach at Penn State. After his hiring–or before–why didn’t he go to the police or child protection agencies to find out what was what? He was, after all, more directly involved, and was 28 years old at the time–hardly a kid. If Joe has to go, why not McQueary?

5. This is not an excuse, just an observation–Paterno is in his mid-80’s. His generation didn’t grow up hearing all about sex abuse, beyond “don’t take candy from strangers.” They aren’t comfortable talking about homosexuality, pedophilia, and other issues beyond adult male-female bed bouncing. They often show greater loyalty to friends and family than circumstances might warrant. The possibility of an ex-associate behaving so shockingly must have been horrifying to Paterno. After reporting it, it is not surprising that he might shove it into a dusty corner of his mind and turn his attention elsewhere.

6. Why did the charity the criminal Sandusky helped found, The Second Mile, not go to the police and child protection services after an earlier incident was reported to them? Surely their complicity was far more noteworthy than Paterno’s, and far more dangerous. Predators groom their victims, and this non-profit was ideal for Sandusky’s purposes. It is sickening to read that Sandusky’s six children were all adopted, for it makes you wonder (not that birth children aren’t sexually abused, too), and that he fostered several others. Some wonder what his wife might have been aware of, but pedophilic abuse cases rarely investigate spouses, unless they took an active role.

Penn State grad burning his diploma

The whole is a sick mess. I understand why the Board of Trustees felt Joe had to go, and believe the university president really did deserve to go. But legally speaking (not that I’m a lawyer!), does the Board of Trustees have a case with Joe? And is he likely to fight back later? I’m no advocate of big-time university sports and the fact that schools become so financially dependent on them,  but I think it’s ridiculous to tar the entire  institution because of what happened–that former students are burning their diplomas is outright ridiculous, unless they feel that their university experience was football.

What do I hope will emerge from all this? That those in positions of entitlement (university administrators, winning athletic coaches, politicians, church fathers) will drop their arrogance and realize they are accountable for their actions? Ha! I can wish it, but the world has shown no inclination to work that way. I hope Penn State and other universities will do even more research on pedophiles and preventive measures–since pedophiles were almost always themselves abused as children, they produce “offspring,” creating exponential growth–and finding out why some victims are able to resist this mental path would have enormous benefits. I certainly hope all universities will consider what the downside of sweeping things under the rug may be, and act differently. And I wish the victims of Sandusky the very best, and hope they will be able to cope with the memories they have, and the barrage of news items this scandal has raised. They were hit hard–betrayal by a trusted adult, threats in a vulnerable position, abuse, moral abandonment. May they find relief and comfort.


One Response to “Blame”

  1. Riley November 14, 2011 at 12:51 PM #

    I found the information on this site valuable.

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