This is turning out to be a very sad day for Penn State fans. And we have no one to blame but Penn State.
It’s one thing to mismanage a football game. Call the wrong play, waste a timeout, pick tails instead of heads, and 100,000 people might go home unhappy. But mishandling accusations of a sexual predator abusing a child is unconscionable and unforgivable.
It’s my belief that crimes against children should carry an extra dose of venom from those who investigate, prosecute, judge, and punish individuals committing such vile offenses. As adults, our greatest responsibilities include the protection of those who are unable to adequately protect themselves. Yet on a near-daily basis, we see videos of the elderly being beaten at the ATM for their money. We hear of the disabled being mistreated by caregivers. And we learn of children being attacked by the people entrusted with their growth and well-being.
I’m having a difficult time understanding how so many people could have been so negligent in the Jerry Sandusky*** case. It appears the people who knew, told the wrong people. The people they told, swept it under the rug. For over a decade!
*** Please allow me to opine about the justice system in the United States. On Nov. 5, 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people and wounded 32 others when he opened fire on his fellow soldiers at Ft. Hood in Texas. He himself was shot at the scene and taken into police custody. Whether I like it or not, Major Hasan gets a trial. In this country, you are innocent until proven guilty. It doesn’t always make sense to me, but that’s the way we’ve chosen to protect the rights of our citizens. While Hasan’s trial will no doubt consist of dozens of survivors taking the stand and pointing him out as the man who shot them, along with every other witness present on that horrible day, he still has the right to be tried. Let’s not forget that Jerry Sandusky is afforded that same right. While I pray he didn’t commit this heinous crime, allegations such as these aren’t brought for no reason.
I’m a Penn State football fan. I’m a Joe Paterno fan. This scandal hurts on two sides. Yes, I’m allowed to be sad on both sides. I’m ashamed, embarrassed, and appalled at the accusations. Not only about the crimes alleged, but also about those who knew about them and how they responded to what they knew. And I’m sad about Penn State football. I’ve always be a strong defender of being a Cub fan, and growing up in Pittsburgh usually means you’re either a Penn State fan defending yourself against Pitt fans, or vice versa. So I spent my days in school defending both. Granted, I had many more allies during the fall than I did during baseball season. But the arguments about college football were always stronger, feelings more passionate.
Because I’m a fan, I’ve tried not to react openly about this situation. At first I clung to the “Joe didn’t do anything illegal” angle, in the hopes it meant he had no involvement. Because I’m a fan, I’ve tried very hard to not assume that the people calling for Joe’s head are just haters of Penn State football who are giddy to know scandal had finally taken root in Happy Valley. Because it could just be the same rooting interest that led me to denial is the same anti-Statehood that makes others so venomous towards him. But I can’t defend him or the university if the things I’m reading are true.
I’m sad that Coach Paterno will end his tenure at Penn State in shame; I’m equally saddened that, by all accounts I’ve read, the entire scandal would only be on one man’s shoulders, Jerry Sandusky, had Joe done the right thing from the beginning. Was he alone in his negligence? It would appear he was not. Doesn’t matter. Why he didn’t go to the proper authorities, I’ll likely never understand. I wanted to make excuses for him, but in the end, I choose to believe that this man, this beloved figure, knew better. He knew how to handle this situation, but seemingly chose to leave it to others. Washed his hands of it? My words, and maybe inaccurate. I just don’t know. Maybe I’ll understand better as details come out. This story is far from over, and likely to get worse.
As the Penn State football program has struggled more recently, I’ve struggled with them. It’s been difficult to cheer as loudly. It’s been harder to support Coach Paterno while the voices grow louder and louder about losing touch with today’s game, with an inability, whether supposed or actual, to recruit as successfully as when the Nittany Lions were perennial National Championship contenders. I came to the sad realization not long ago that Joe had already overstayed his legacy, and that each sub-par season would only serve to tarnish what should only have been considered a brilliant coaching career.
And now this. Of course, this goes beyond football. Someone at the Pennsylvania State University, perhaps several someones, failed to protect our children. Children whose tuition dollars they no doubt hoped to receive one day. I don’t know why. And I don’t know how to fix it. There are lives that have been irrevocably affected by people who were trusted. Kids who came to Jerry Sandusky thinking they were getting leadership and guidance, were instead abused, humiliated, and violated in the worst possible way. And no one stepped in, no one stepped up, and said it wouldn’t be tolerated. I don’t know everything that went on within the chain of command, but they sure failed.
I can still be sad about football. The team I’ve rooted for since childhood, my father’s alma mater, has disgraced itself. Not the young men who take the field everyday; I still take pride in supporting the student athletes. This has to be a devastating situation for them as well. But I can’t worry about them. I can’t sympathize with the work they’ve put in to their college careers, because there are an unknown as yet number of young boys out there who came to State College for help, and instead received abuse. Those are the ones I have sympathy for, that I pray for, that I wish, somehow, for healing. They didn’t deserve what they got, because they, unlike the PSU administration, were helpless to stop it.
If Jerry Sandusky is guilty of these accusations, I hope he is justly punished. I don’t even know how to make the punishment fit the crime, but that will be determined by someone else. It’s a shame that people behave this way. It’s a shame we can’t all trust each other. And it’s a shame that a once-proud organization didn’t have the fortitude to do what’s best from the start, and save not only their reputation, but more importantly, the sons and brothers who came there for help. It’ll be easy for me to find another team to root for; I fear those kids may never find anything easy to do again. Ever.