By Kelly Haugh
Scandal looms over all Penn State campuses thanks to an ex-assistant coach and the two administrators who allegedly covered up his deplorable abuse of young boys. Though every Penn Stater’s thoughts and prayers are with the victims, current and former students can’t help but feel caught in the middle of a crime that shouldn’t belong in the same sentence with their squeaky clean and socially conscious Penn State.
While the nation and the media are transfixed by such a heinous act being committed by someone once considered the legendary Joe Paterno’s successor, Jerry Sandusky’s crimes and the alleged inaction of Athletic Director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz have tried to rob the 86,205 Penn State students of their good name, school pride and, maybe most heartbreaking of all, their beloved football coach.
Yes, the actions that took place over a 15-year period were unconscionable and heads deserve to roll over the many people in Sandusky’s circle who did nothing for so many years, but Joe Paterno is one of the few who did what he was supposed to do. He followed proper procedure and reported whatever the eyewitness told him up the chain of command, who said they investigated.
Remember, unlike assistant coach Mike McQueary who, as a graduate assistant, claims to have actually witnessed Sandusky raping a boy in a locker room shower, Paterno didn’t personally see a crime taking place. If anyone’s morality and inaction is to be questioned, it should be McQueary’s since he’s the one who failed to intervene to try and stop the sexual assault of a 10-year-old. Who walks in on such a crime and doesn’t at least call the cops or campus police immediately?
Instead, McQueary waited until the next day to tell Paterno that, according to Paterno’s grand jury testimony, he’d seen Sandusky “fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy,” which is what Paterno then reported to Athletic Director Curley. But since McQueary didn’t act at that moment the crime was being committed, it was just an eyewitness account, which Paterno said wasn’t as detailed as McQueary’s grand jury testimony.
In America, everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty, which can be a pain in the ass sometimes. With no immediate threat or hard evidence it’s not surprising that things would be passed up the administrative chain to be sure an investigation was handled properly, especially after similar allegations that led to a police investigation in 1998 were dismissed.
In that case, the New York Times is reporting that campus and local police, child welfare authorities and the Centre County district attorney all failed to find a crime and bring charges. The 11-year-old boy involved in the allegations said only that Sandusky showered with him and it made him uncomfortable. A second possible victim was identified but nothing more came of it.
A report released last weekend by the Pennsylvania attorney general says that Sandusky confessed to showering with the boys and even hugging one of the boys while in the shower, which he admitted was wrong. Detective Schreffler, one of the investigating officers, “advised Sandusky not to shower with any child again and Sandusky said that he would not.” And that was the end of that.
If the police couldn’t find wrongdoing or realize what Sandusky was really up to, how can everyone fault Paterno for failing to do something?
The real failure was Schultz’s, Curley’s, and President Graham Spanier’s for not conducting that thorough investigation. McQueary is also partially to blame for literally standing by and allowing that boy to be assaulted. In hindsight, maybe Paterno should have followed up on the complaint more thoroughly and he admits he wishes he’d done more, but his biggest fault may have been trusting those above him to handle things the right way, just as he expects his players to do. Sadly, most people don’t live up to Paterno’s standards, and the Board of Trustees and media were in the market for an easy scapegoat.
The truth is, no one really knows the whole truth in this case and it will most likely take a lengthy trial to sort everything out, but nobody is willing to wait for that to happen. They’d rather disregard Paterno’s impeccable history, ignore his lauded ideals and lambast him as if he’d assaulted the kids himself. It took the police over two years to investigate the allegations against Sandusky before he was charged, during which time who knows how many more boys may have been assaulted, yet Paterno was essentially thrown under the bus in a matter of days despite the fact that he’s the one person police have said did nothing illegal.
The fact that this scandal was going to force him to retire at the end of the season instead of finishing out his two-year contract and going out on his own terms was bad enough. For the Board of Trustees to oust him immediately just compounds Penn State’s tragedy and should further appall anyone with good sense.
JoePa deserves better than that. For 61 years, he’s given everything to the university and he’s been the embodiment of everything Penn State stands for. In an age where sports scandals and athletes getting into trouble are barely news, Paterno was a shining example of morality, integrity and old school values. He expected his players to behave with honor and emphasized the need for each of them to get an education.
For the Trustees to claim that doing such a disservice to the legend who devoted his life to Penn State was in the “best interest of the university” is a slap in the face. Even amongst the scandal and investigations, Penn State will never be better off without Paterno’s presence and influence. In JoePa we trust. He’s the one that students, players and potential recruits of Penn State believe in and look up to.
Let’s face it, Joe Paterno is Penn State. University Park even teaches a class on him.
Until the moment the Trustees announced they’d stripped Paterno of his job, Penn State had a chance at recovering from the scandal and regaining our good name, because the unscrupulous administrators have nothing to do with what makes us Penn State.
It’s the students and alumni, the history, the school’s tradition of excellence and honor and, yes, Joe Paterno, who has shaped so many lives and always led the entire university by example, that makes us who we are. The appalling actions revealed over the weekend didn’t change that. We were still Penn State, and students could have confidence and pride in that Penn State community and our ability to rebound even as they were outraged and saddened by the failure of the university’s administration.
Now that Paterno has been denied the dignity of at least retiring on the terms he announced Wednesday morning, much of that hope for the future of Penn State has dimmed. A little piece of every Penn Stater died the moment they heard the Trustees’ tragic verdict, and it doesn’t feel like we – or the university – will ever be whole again.
The students of Penn State have been reduced to collateral damage that no one, least of all the Board of Trustees, gives a damn about. It’s our university and it’s our reputation on the line, but no one cares what we students think, what we want, or what we feel needs to be done to make it through this horrible scandal.
Those “in charge” have allowed Joe Paterno and the integrity and reputation of the university as a whole to be thrown onto the pyre and left to go down in flames. It’s an atrocious way to end an era that ultimately will do even more harm to Penn State.
Given all the good Paterno has done over his lengthy career, it’s beyond tragic that this is how his story will end. He more than earned the right to finish a measly three games. The Trustees couldn’t even show him the respect of fair warning. According to CBS News, they alerted him of their shocking decision via a hand-delivered letter a mere 15 minutes before their press conference.
We students know you deserved better, Joe, as do the many alumni and former players whose lives you’ve impacted, like Steelers great Franco Harris. Because, as Paterno and the student supporters at his house Tuesday night said, “We are Penn State, and we’ll always be Penn State.”
And Joe Paterno will always be our hero.
Updated 3:40 p.m.