Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Fall of a Lion

I got my master's degree in English from Penn State in 1987. Joe Paterno was already a legend when I got there in 1984. In 1986, the Nittany Lions won the National Championships against Florida, and I can remember a gang of us at a table at the Rathskeller, a local dive, sitting in front of the television watching the games and drinking Rolling Rock.

As a graduate student in English, I liked Joe Paterno. For one thing, he himself had a degree in English literature, and he made his players study. When they weren't doing well in English classes, he made them sign up for English 5, a semester of tutoring in our Writing Center, in which they got an extra hour of help every week. I worked with a number of football players. They all looked up to Coach in awe. I liked Joe Paterno's belief in the value of an education.

And I liked JoePa because he supported women's sports. He'd show up to the women's basketball games on occasion, cheering on the Lady Lions (even though Rene Portland was the coach then--I've blogged about her skanky ass before here.)

But now Joe Paterno, college football's winningest coach, who still looks about the same as he did in 1987 (although perhaps a bit more frail and rickety), is caught up in allegations of involvement in a sex-abuse scandal. We are talking about Joe Paterno and the University turning a blind eye to the actions of a pedophile. More than that, the University apparently gave this man access, even after his retirement, to the locker room and showers where he committed his crimes. In short, they made things easier for him.

It's a nasty story, and you can read all the details online because the story is spreading like wildfire, but here is one thorough account. Here's the gist: in 2002, a graduate student (who is now a coach) witnessed the pedophile in question assaulting a boy in the locker room. He drove to Paterno's home to tell him what he saw. (Why didn't this man intervene in the assault? No one knows.) Paterno is claiming the grad student wasn't very specific about what he saw, but Paterno heard enough to take the allegation to his superiors.

And then the University proceeded to sweep the problem under the rug. After all, their former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, who had once upon a time been next in line to succeed JoePa as head coach, couldn't possibly be a pedophile. Why, he's a married man. He has kids. Heck, he takes in foster kids. Heck, he works with Second Mile, a charity that helps disadvantaged kids. He's a saint!

Oh, but Jerry Sandusky is a pedophile. And apparently a smart one, because he sure had devised some clever ways to give himself access to a lot of children. There have been at least 8-9 kids he's assaulted over a 15-year period, and I'm betting this is just the tip of the ice berg. (Wait until the foster kids start talking.)

So, what should Joe Paterno have done, back in 2002? Well, upon hearing the account of the eye witness to the assault, he should've called the cops. Duh. (So should have the grad student.) But he did do what he was legally called upon to do--he told his superiors. No crime committed. So he's not being charged with participating in any cover-up.

But, damn. I'm thinking if I were told such a thing, and I'd reported it, I'd still do some follow-up to find out the result. "Did you tell the police? Was there an investigation? Will there be one? Does anyone know what happened to the child?"

It's not like it was a situation of someone helping himself to a few free jerseys in the locker room. We are talking about someone sexually assaulting a child. It's not something you forget or take lightly.

The other question that hangs so obviously there, like a big red sheet flapping on a clothesline, is this: why, after Sandusky retired, was he allowed access to the Penn State sports complex? What was that all about? My Chelle, who has worked in athletics at universities such as Long Beach, Santa Clara, Eastern Washington, and Stanford, says that's not typical. Once you retire, you're out of there. There is no reason to be hanging around in the locker rooms.

So, the whole thing has a fishy smell.

But one thing's for sure: turning a blind eye to child sexual abuse is absolutely unacceptable. Paterno will end up either resigning or being fired. His reputation--and Penn State football--has now been besmirched.

How the mighty fall.

(A summary of the grand jury report is here. It will make you sick to your stomach.)


Matt said...

Amen, sister. And now they hide behind attorneys and P.R. Experts. Shameful behavior. Sickening. The only heroes in this are the victims who came forward to try and protect other children and had to endure being called liars and 3 years of questioning during the grand jury investigation. Bless them for their courage and bravery.

Joyce said...


And, of course, now the number of children molested is up to @20. There may be more. And who knows how many more are still afraid or ashamed to come forward.

Oh, a correction to what I wrote: apparently The Second Mile started as a group foster home and then morphed into an entire agency of sorts. So they were disadvantaged kids to begin with, and then the agency that's supposed to be helping them puts them in the hands of a pedophile. And Penn State looks the other way, fearful of the damage to its reputation (that's my guess anyway).