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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Penn State: the Way of Being, and the Scandal (Part I)

It comes time for me to weigh in on the matter that has taken Pennsylvania, college football and a whole lot more by storm.  By now, even the most casual follower of major college football knows of the scandal that has gripped Penn State University.  The fallout has been tremendous, as was to be expected, but we are seeing much more happening here.  Much more, indeed.

Not so much that such terrible things are alleged to have happened; they unfortunately do in all walks of life, but that they may have happened in a place where such things could never have been conceived.  Add to it, by someone who was so respected, admired and honored as the one who started the terrible process.

It is also about those who chose not to "do the right thing," to cover up, to ignore and pretend it wasn't there, all in the name of protecting "the program."  I admit, a lot of what I will say will be opinion, observation but with a fair amount of reality.  At least I will do my best to dissect what has, and is happening...hopefully what will.

First, we have the man alleged to be the perpetrator, Jerry Sandusky:

I will be the first one to tell you that everything on Wikipedia may/may not be accurate, but this mostly appears to be.

Now, take away the charges and lurid details (more on that later); here's a guy that is a product of Penn State.  He played footbal there, went off to coach, came back and built a solid reputation as a defensive specialist.  For over 30 years, Sandusky served under Joe Paterno, developed very strong defenses, and a string of All-American linebackers, several of whom made to the NFL.  He was Def. Coordinator from 1977-99, when he retired; Sandusky had turned down offers to coach at Maryland, Marshall and elsewhere.  His heart it seemed was with Penn State, and who could blame him?

He founded a home for underprivileged boys called the Second Mile.  Sandusky had a precedent:  when he was nine, his parents lived in Washington, PA; they convinced the local officials to keep a small center for kids in need open.  They moved in above it, saved the place and kept a safe haven for kids.  Sandusky always talked about how that stuck with him, and I honestly believe it did.

Now...forgive my being a cynic, but Second Mile is a rip from the Bible, and that sure plays real well in Pennsylvania, especially up in the North-Central, State College area.  Nothing like working God in there, eh?

Well, for years, it would seem that Sandusky, his wife and all those who helped made the charity a going thing, a multi-million-dollar deal, that gave young kids (boys primarily, I think) a chance they never really had.  Hundreds have been through it, and I'm sure most of them don't have horror stories to tell.

Like these alleged victims do...

I'm gonna warn you...that official report is not pretty.  We had known for three years that a grand jury had been investigating Sandusky, and reports (sketchy they were) of some rather strange and untoward behavior.

Since grand juries tend to be closed door affairs, we never heard an awful lot, but we heard enough to know there was smoke...a lot of smoke.  You know what comes next, right?

I'll put myself where I was as this all started to go down.  Friday, the shoe dropped, and it was learned that Sandusky, 67 years old, the man long thought to be Paterno's successor had been indicted on the charges described in the above AG's report.  I had not read the report until Saturday, when I was working the weekend shift for WITF and KYW Newsradio.

KYW was covering this as a full blown news story;  the arraignment had taken place Saturday morning.  Radio PA (the WITF-owned network I was working for) had an empty newsroom, but for me that afternoon.  Thanks to my colleagues from the WITF News side, I had material to work with, and I ended up rewriting and recording a couple of pieces for RPA's news.

Now, this was all sickening enough...but into the mix were two superiors:  Athletic Director Tim Curley and VP of Business & Finance Gary Shultz.

Look at the pictures of those guys (clearly from the Penn State site or somewhere they do those standups), and you have Dumb and Dumber.  They too face charges, for the alleged cover-up.

Let's do the skinny on was clear that Sandusky was in trouble from as early as 1994.  In '98, one of these incidents occurred on the Penn State campus; there was an investigation, and University Police (yes, they have their own police force) chose to do nothing more (allegedly) than to warn Sandusky and they let it go.

They let it go...allegedly.

Fast forward to the incident that we now know involves Mike McQueary, now the receivers coach under Joe Paterno.  Back in '02, McQueary testified that he caught Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the football locker room showers...he testified that he took the matter to his father, and they went to see Paterno the next day.

The AG's office and all others agree that Paterno then took this matter to Curley, his superior, his boss, if you will.  Curley promised action; he and Shultz met with McQueary about ten days later, and assured McQueary action would be taken.

Here's what all appears to have happened:  part of the terms of Sandusky's retirement in '99 was the standard package a lot of folks get after years of service.  This included perks like education discounts for himself or dependents; Sandusky also got an office which he apparently used for the Second Mile activities, and unfettered access to the locker rooms, gym, workout centers, etc.  Like he'd never retired.

They took his keys away.

Yeah, and apparently also told Sandusky not to bring any more kids onto the campus.

Now it gets worse.

NO report to the police, the local and/or state police.

NO report to the state, as mandated under the Pennsylvania Child Protection statutes.

It also seems from the, "he said, he said" back and forth in testimony, that Curley and Shultz (allegedly) obscured the picture, not only to University President Graham Spanier, but to anyone else in the know.

Paterno, according to his grand jury testimony and all others agree, did the right thing.  He informed his superior, and did so in good time.  More on that in a moment.

So here we are:  Sandusky is free on $100-thousand bail.  Dumb and Dumber are free on $75-thousand each; Curley has requested and been placed on administrative leave, while Curley has returned to retirement.

That being said:  I want to make very clear, I am not trying to convict anyone myself.  Sandusky, Curley and Shultz deserve a fair day in court, and a right to be defended against these charges.  Innocent till proven guilty is the law of this land, despite a media (and quite a few others) who think it is the other way 'round.

Based on what we're hearing and reading (and you need to take a lot of this with grains of salt, many in fact), Sandusky was a classic pedophile:  he used his position at Penn State, with the Second Mile and within the community to build good will.  Somewhere along the line, it's conjectured he began using it all for something insidious.

The profile, experts say is very classic:  Sandusky singled out boys for extra-special attention.  He took them to Penn State games, they got to hang out at practices, Sandusky was showing them a good time, making them feel wanted.

In a lot of cases, a kid without a really solid family and not a lot of options can sure as hell use that kind of hand up.  No doubt a lot of kids benefitted.  But Sandusky appeared to have found the ones most vulnerable, the ones who would keep their mouths shut.

The grooming induces skin-crawling sensations that just make you ill, at least they do to me.  Others say that Sandusky's double life was obscured (mostly) by his personality, his way with people; you're made to think this is the last guy on Earth who would ever do things like these.

Yeah.  They've said that before too; many times.

So here we have the bones of the story, and how two university officials, high-ranking officials with great responsibility upon them, dropped the ball...allegedly. 

Why do that?  Why risk everything to keep this all hushed up?

For that, you need to understand a little more about Penn State, and the "Way."


What is the "Way?"

As someone who is not from Pennsylvania, I hope I can offer an outsider-looking-in sort of view.  Growing up as a kid, I was a sports fan.  I was into just about every sport there was, though I could not play any of them well enough to save my own life.

I'd never been a big fan of college football; it just didn't interest me as much as the pro game, and that includes the CFL, considering I grew up in Northern New England, near the Canadian border in pre-cable TV days.

But I certainly knew about Penn State, the Nittany Lions, and I knew who Joe Paterno was.  Those plain, blue and white uniforms, the huge stadium in a place nicknamed "Happy Valley."  JoePA was the grandfatherly coach who ran a unique program.

He believed that seniors, if they were still on the squad from their freshman year, got to start because they'd earned it.  You had to be damn good player if you were playing regularly in your first or second years.

The program seemed "clean."  You almost never heard of NCAA violations coming out of PSU, though occasionally there might be a miss-step.  Nothing, though that ever meant sanctions, loss of scholarships, loss of postseason play none of that. 

Considering what happened to SMU and how the program never fully recovered from the "death penalty" in '87, you didn't expect anything like that again.

Some have put the recent scandals involving pay to play at the University of Miami as somehow like this.  No, this is something doesn't involve players, shady agents and the like.  It involves men in power, in authority and of influence.  Some who appear to have acted terribly, others who have acted out of cowardice, greed or some other need.

So now, let's look at Penn State...the university is indeed a reknowned and well-respected school.  You can't be dumbass if you go there; the courses of study across the state system are among the best in the region.  No argument.

The sports programs have always been touted as good, competitive programs, but that academics always came first.  It seems that way; you never hear much about football or basketball players getting sidelined because their grades stunk.  You never hear about players getting the smart kids to do their papers for them or letting them copy their exams, that kind of thing.

In this part of the world, there are supposedly strong values about honesty, ethics, integrity, all of that.  Penn State tries to live that way, but all schools should be putting those things forward.

The exception to the rule about sports was football, and Joe Paterno.

He is the all-time winningest coach in Division I football; he just passed Eddie Robinson of Grambling for wins, with 409.  He's won two national titles, numerous bowl games, and he's turned out a remarkable number of really good football players.  A great teacher, yes.

But with years and years of his being there, the success, the power...comes the cult of personality. 

It's not even Paterno's fault; Paterno became bigger than the university, for the very things he preached and practiced.  He elicited a following of alumni, students, boosters and whomever that basically saw him as a God.

Not God, mind...just one who rode on God's shoulders when he wasn't reading the classics or diagraming plays.

The adulation becomes frenzied if you dare say anything ill of JoePa; mention that he's too old, that in recent years his teams aren't that good, anything like that, and you will be smacked down by people who virtually foam at the mouth at your blasphemies.

This extends to the media, and I've not a lot of liking for colleagues who continually carry a torch for JoePa...I won't name names, but there are a few radio, TV and print media guys who week in and week out virtually masturbate in public over the greatness that is Joe Paterno.

Most of them aren't, anymore.

And that is where I come to the next point:

This story is one of many out there.  The calls are loud for Paterno to step down, resign, be fired, anything.  So many of those who loudly tub thumped and trumpeted JoePa's praises are now demanding he be served up on a silver platter.


Let's look into that.

Technically and legally, Paterno did the right thing in '02 when that horrid allegation came up.  Paterno is 84; back then he'd have been about 75.  At an age when most men are having trouble getting out of bed, Paterno could still get about, but over the years people have wondered just how much coaching does the man actually do?

He never wears a headset anymore; he does talk to the players, the coaches, the officials, sure, but is he a figurehead as some charge?

Okay, back to the age thing...Paterno may not have understood the portent of all this, but I tend to think in the back of his mind he did.

He did the right thing.  He reported it; my feeling is he trusted Curley and the rest to do their jobs and do the right thing, too.

Only they didn't.  There's no proof yet that Paterno ever called to follow up on this.

Now here's another thing:  Paterno has a reputation of an, "Aw Jeez," type of guy, down to earth, friendly, grandfatherly, etc.  But he was and probably still is a tough customer...his relationship with Sandusky is an interesting matter.

Reports are they were not that close.  They worked well together and I'm sure respected one another, but Paterno and Sandusky argued a lot, to the point that Paterno would fire Sandusky (then re-hire him).

Apparently, after that '02 incident, Paterno distanced himself from Sandusky, even though he is an honorary chair member of Second Mile.

Paterno had to have known, it is said, that Sandusky was still around the campus, even after these allegations became known.  Paterno had to testify to a grand jury; he had to have at least heard of the other allegations.

Now...this is where Monday Morning Quarterbacking is a big problem.  Everyone is claiming moral high ground, and claiming that Paterno should have done more than he did.

How can you judge that, nine years after the fact?

Do YOU have the right to judge that?  I don't think you do.  I don't either.

Yes, I think Paterno could have done more, and maybe he did.  He was not allowed to speak to the media today at his regular Tuesday press conference, on orders from the president, Spanier.  More on that particular character in a bit

So yeah...this is being ripped apart, picked apart and torn up.  In a world of instant information, 24-hour sports channels and an ever-ready line of "experts" who want in for their face time and 15 seconds of notoriety, you have the inevitable pile of shit.

Paterno must go...Spanier must go...the coaching staff must be wiped out...the slate wiped clean...

Yeah, yeah.

Like you think that's gonna do it?

The general feeling is that Paterno, whose contract is up at the end of the season, will not be rehired.  He likely will be allowed to retire at season's end, though I wonder if he will be permitted to coach at a bowl game, which looks pretty likely.

President Spanier, I have never been a fan of.  He has done much for the university, including the establishment of a law school, but he has been a figurehead who has allowed himself to be walked all over.

He has been stepped on by Paterno, by the Athletic Department, by politicians and by the media.  Spanier has done nothing in my view to stand up for the students and their rights; he has no power.  He has been a weak leader, and I honestly think he too needs to leave.

Does Paterno deserve to go?  I'm afraid he does, but I feel sorry for him.  I never disliked or despised him the way so many have.

This is the double-edged sword of Penn State, and JoePa:  you either love him and the school, or you hate them.

You love them for all the good things the school allegedly stands for, the probity, the ethics, the decency, and all that mushy, rah-rah-let's-go-Penn State stuff.

Or you hate them for their arrogance, their swagger and their we're-so-fucking-much-better-than-you attitude.  In a lot of cases, they were.

I guess it comes down to this:

--Sandusky faces life in prison for what he is alleged to have done.  Following his day in court, we'll see what happens to him.

--Curley and Shultz are likely headed for prison, or at least probation and stiff fines, if found guilty in the cover-up.  Their lives are ruined; for if found guilty, they are guilty of failing to act when action was required.

--Spanier likely will lose his job, because all this went on under his watch.  His ill-advised statement of support for those two guys may have been meant well, but it backfired.  His weakness has helped kill him, too; for he did not stand up to the program, the program Curley and Shultz allegedly tried to protect.

--Paterno?  Honestly, I think once it all sinks in, this is a man who is going to hurt like hell, and not for himself.  He has done much good for sports, and for people; it was not that he made a mistake, but that it seems in the eyes of many he didn't go far enough in doing what was right.  We may never know why.

I don't think one error (if you can call it that) should be any person's legacy.  I know that I've said and done things I wished I'd never...but I would hope that no one would take one incident or moment and think that was all I was.

But yes...Paterno needs to retire, and do so with the grace the man has shown over the years.  It's time for that change, as well.

--Of course, we have the victims.  Those kids, eight of them, some now men...and were there others?  Again we might not know.  The eight we know will now have to live those nightmares over again, in order to see an alleged predator face his due.  Those guys will never be fully "normal," though I'm not even what "normal" is myself.

The whole thing is just sad.  My cynical, dark side laughs with what I feel is justification at a lot of people who blindly sang the praises of Penn State and Joe Paterno, and how wonderful it all is, was, etc.

Quite a few of you jumped ship right away, didn't you?  The whole story still hasn't come out, has it?  Were you ever really fans?  Were you ever really Penn Staters?  Gotta wonder about you.

Like the song says, "Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself."

I love how the Harrisburg Patriot-News suddenly found its spine after years of fawning over Penn State.

Sorry, but you know what?  You all set yourself up to fall, and hard.  Scary, isn't it, when your "Gods" show themselves to be human after all?

Yeah...but at the heart of it all, I feel sad.  No one I know is enjoying reporting on this, whether you went to PSU or not.

One of my colleagues is a Maryland grad...she HATES PSU, and has never forgiven Paterno for letting the Lions run the score up on the Terrapins years ago.  I don't even remember the game's she's talking about.

I feel the worst for those kids, and those young men.  Let's make sure we're clear on that.

I feel bad for Paterno, having to endure something he did not do, but is being made culpable...that is something he himself will have to deal with.  We don't have that right to do it for him.

Two men who worked for years at Penn State, when caught in the crisis of their lives, blinked.

One man who, as Paterno stated, "fooled" everyone with an act worthy of the greatest stage performer, for years.  And almost got away with it...allegedly.

Then there's a nation of alumni and know what?  They didn't do this.  They didn't assault those kids; they didn't sweep it under the rug.  They've been played, too.  All in the name of what Howard Cosell sneeringly called, "BIG TIME COLLEGE SPORTS."

Is what it's all about, isn't it?

Well, I have to go up to Penn State this Saturday, to cover the Nebraska game.  I likely will have thoughts about this over the weekend.  I have a job to do; I wonder what I will find.

1 comment:

  1. Editor's Note: Shultz has reportedly returned to bad.