There is no doubt, former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky is the worst kind of person, if he can be considered a person at all. Perhaps “animal” or “predator” is a better word to describe him. He took advantage of young, vulnerable boys from broken homes and violated them in such a way that it will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
But there is a word that needs to be associated with Penn State head coach Joe Paterno and university officials: accomplice.
There are incidents dating back to the mid- to late-1990s regarding this man’s crimes. The fact that he went from being the heir apparent of the Nittany Lions’ program to “retiring” in 1999 suggests that the program was well-aware of his atrocities long ago.
But even if you believe they were oblivious, a ridiculous assumption that I’ll entertain for conversation’s sake, there was an incident in 2002 during which a graduate assistant witnessed abuse.
In failing to report Sandusky to police, especially when the graduate assistant reported in detail seeing Sandusky in the shower with one of his eight (and now maybe nine) victims in a Penn State locker room shower, everyone at the university with knowledge of the situation gave this monster full license to continue abusing and raping boys for the better part of a decade.
They had the means to stop him, but chose not to. And why? So the program and university could continue to appear responsible and conscientious instead of actually being either of those things.
No one involved in this situation is clean. The graduate assistant, who claimed both Sandusky and the young boy he saw in the shower with him both saw him, did nothing to stop what he saw, despite the fact that it clearly disturbed him. Imagine being that little boy and watching someone who could help you turn his back and walk away instead of stopping the man who was raping you.
The assistant did go to Paterno and report what he saw, which I suppose is better than pretending he never saw it. Paterno in turn passed the buck to his superiors in the administration. The administration slapped Sandusky on the wrist by taking away his locker room keys. Clearly at this point the administration had no interest in justice for the young victim.
But why at that point did Paterno not go to the police himself? Because he was as invested in keeping the image of the program clean, rather than actually cleaning up the program that was covered in the worst kind of filth.
No one is safe. Like a failing home appliance retailer, everything must go. If Penn State hopes to maintain its legitimacy as both a football program and as an institution of higher learning, Paterno must be fired, along with president Graham Spanier and anyone else in the administration who chose to ignore the fact that sexual abuse took place on their campus, levied by a man employed by the university.
What’s more, the NCAA must pull its head out of the sand and realize that this is the most important place to make a stand regarding responsibility and decency. Collegiate athletics’ governing body has come down hard on programs such as SMU, USC and Ohio State for past scandals involving boosters, illegal perks given to players and the like. If a school and a program are not willing to do what must be done to protect children from sexual abuse, the entity that polices that program must act.
The term “death penalty” was thrown around when the University of Miami was involved in a scandal involving a booster earlier this year. Given the fact that the Penn State program allowed the victimization of children for over a decade, nothing short of the death penalty, or banning the team from playing for an entire season, seems appropriate, in addition to bowl ineligibility this year. Players who want to leave the program should be able to do so without having to forfeit a year.
Some have said they are pained by the thought of one of the premier programs in college football and a revered coach such as Joe Pa are going to end up disgraced. What pains me is the thought of the victims who became victims because no one could be bothered to stop this animal in the first place. If the NCAA is going to make an example of programs for monetary violations, then punishment should be swift and severe to make sure that there is no question that this kind of behavior and willingness to turn a blind eye to abuse will not be tolerated.