Today’s biggest sports news isn’t even a sports story at all, just one that involves a once highly regarded college football team and one of their best assistant coaches of all-time. As much as it pains me to write this (and I didn’t want to because this story is more about the abuse of power and authority and not about the world of athletics) today’s news of Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno, and the scandal rocking University Park, Pennsylvania is a story that needs to be told. You’d have to be living in a bubble to not know by now what happened with the once legendary Nittany Lions team, their proud head coach, and the former defensive coordinator whose actions (and the inaction of everyone else involved in the scandal) forever tarnished the legacy of one of the most historic college football programs in history and ruined the lives of far too many children in the process.
Unlike some of the articles you may have read today, and some of the coverage you may have seen on ESPN and other outlets covering the news of the report released today by former FBI Director and Judge Louis Joseph Freeh, instead of ripping coaches Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky, Athletic Director Tim Curley, Vice President of Finance and Business Gary Schultz, and School President Graham B. Spanier, I’ll instead focus on the real impact of what happened and what can be done today to make sure that this horrific and tragic story never repeats itself. Do these gentlemen (and I use that term loosely) deserve the criticism and blame for what went on? Fucking right they do, but no matter what anyone says or does right now, nothing can take back what happened to these innocent young children who became victims of a ruthless monster and even worse the cover-up done by a university to protect its own image in the face of adversity.
Jerry Sandusky, who served as a defensive coach with the Penn State University Nittany Lions from 1969-1999 (assuming the role of defensive coordinator in 1977), was finally convicted of 45 of 48 counts of child sexual abuse late last month. That in itself is horrifying and terrible news, but what made it even worse is that his co-workers and superiors allowed it to continue to go on for at least 14 years since when it was first alleged that he had committed wrong-doing with some of the boys that both Penn State and Sandusky’s “Second Mile” charity were supposed to be responsible for. Penn State officials even after hearing allegations of what may (and as the justice system has agreed did) have happened on their own campus, took far too long to even speak to Sandusky about his improprieties. Even worse, the school and its officials did for all intents and purposes nothing else after hearing these findings and just hoped that it would slip under the rug as if it were an athlete failing a school issued drug-test.
Now, I wasn’t there, and even after reading the 267 page report put out today by Freeh Sporkin and Sullivan, LLP this morning, it’s hard to imagine that Penn State’s administrators were there either. Trust me, I’m not ignorant and I know what they were trying to accomplish (as dishonest and unethical as it was), but damn how could they do what they did? I’m so thankful that Judge Freeh’s report finally called the administration out on what was years in the making, as the report said “the most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims” (page 14). In Freeh’s prepared statement today, he echoed those sentiments calling the total disregard the “most saddening and sobering finding” and that’s really what stuck out to me most about this entire case. Not once did any member of the Penn State community try to find out if the children Mr. Sandusky tortured were okay, they only cared about the school’s reputation and what would happen if people found out. Well guess what Penn State, people found out, and your non-existent call to action let the police and justice system tell the whole story instead of you coming clean and trying to repair whatever damage might have been caused. Today it’s too late.
And as I said before, while today’s story is disgusting and beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations, it really doesn’t mean a damn thing unless people learn from it. Sandusky’s victim’s lives are already forever changed and he will serve the rest of his life in prison regardless, Joe Paterno has already passed away and is rotting in hell anyway, and today’s report doesn’t really impact the criminal cases against Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz (who should both get jail time as a result of this case). Nobody can take back what happened, and apologies from anyone in the Penn State community now would seem perfectly insincere. What today’s report can impact though, is any similar case in the present and the future, and the recommendations that Judge Freeh made in his reports are something that not only every college and university should look to incorporate, but every business in the world as well.
There is one paragraph in Mr. Freeh’s report that really touched me. He speaks about the culture and what can be changed, and in my humble opinion is the most important thing that we can learn from this tragedy. Freeh says, “One of the most challenging of the tasks confronting the Penn State community is transforming the culture that permitted Sandusky’s behavior, as illustrated throughout this report, and which directly contributed to the failure of Penn State’s most powerful leaders to adequately report and respond to the actions of a serial sexual predator. It is up to the entire University community – students, faculty, staff, alumni, the Board, and the administration – to undertake a thorough and honest review of its culture. The current administration and Board of Trustees should task the University community, including students, faculty, staff, alumni and peers from similar institutions and outside experts in ethics and communications, to conduct such a review. The findings from such a review may well demand further changes” (page 18).
The culture at Penn State is what allowed this tragedy to slip under the radar for almost two decades. People being afraid to tell a grown man, “NO” (I’m speaking of the administration and not of the innocent young boys here), and everyone else turning a blind eye to even the alleged abuse coming from one of the universities’ coaches is the most horrifying aspect of this case. Far too many people were afraid they would lose their jobs if they reported it, and if they weren’t afraid of losing their job they were afraid of the cultural hit that the university would take if people knew that they had such a monster on their staff. Instead, everyone wanted to hide it under the rug, never thinking that one day that carpet would be pulled up for cleaning, exposing every thought, email, and general unethical conduct that went in to aiding and abetting such a series of grotesque events.
I don’t want this piece to harp too much on this specific example and what could have been different at Penn State, but there is one more piece of evidence that really irritates me when it comes to this story. Penn State never declared Jerry Sandusky a “person non grata” (in layman’s terms an unwelcome person), though President Spanier did declare a sports agent who gave a Penn State football player $400 worth of merchandise before the 1997 Citrus Bowl that same role. Spanier said the agent “fooled around with the integrity of the university, and I won’t stand for that” (page 52) and that the idea was to “keep (the agent) off campus permanently , to keep him away from current athletes, and to keep him away from current graduates or student’s whose eligibility has recently expired”. Knowing what Jerry Sandusky was accused of (and ultimately found guilty of) the university still allowed him free roam over the school and it’s facilities? I’m sorry, but that doesn’t add up to me.
This shit (and as much I try to use language that my mother and grandmother wouldn’t mind hearing from me, and as professional as I want this blog to become), is S-H-I-T, and unfortunately it happens far too often than people would like to admit. Even in the quiet hometown that I grew up in, there was a prominent member of the town’s athletic department that was just as much a monster as Jerry Sandusky, even if he wasn’t on the same scale as the former Penn State hero. I won’t get into details here, but one of the coaches who taught me how to hit a baseball, was involved in much the same illegal and sickening acts as Sandusky, but he got away with it due to flaws in the justice system and in the practices of third-party company that tried to bust the people who preyed on children who couldn’t have known any better. USA Swimming had a similar scandal on a larger scale, and I bet if you looked hard enough you could find other examples of much the same pathetic and sobering actions across all sports and all levels of education, so this is definitely a problem that goes way beyond Pennsylvania boundaries.
People who I love have been affected by sexual assault and molestation, and that is why I feel so strongly about this issue. To tell you the truth, this entry is the hardest thing that I’ve wrote for this blog and I had a hard time writing it without breaking down a few times. I felt sick to my stomach the moment I heard about Sandusky’s immoral activities and even today months later it still brings up the same emotions and feelings of anger. Much of the reason that I went into sports management and sport administration is so that I can make a difference in the sports culture in in society in general through a means that has taught me so much about life, teamwork, and doing things the right way. Hearing the unfortunate and basically surreal stories about institutions like Penn State doing everything antithetically by the book just shows me that I made the right choice, as I want to make a difference in this world.
No child deserves to go through what Sandusky’s victims have. It took a huge act of courage for many of those victims to speak out and finally bring him to justice, and if I ever meet those guys I want to give them the awkward handshake into a bro-hug, instead of the “I’m going to squeeze your guts out” inappropriate hugs that led Sandusky to even further nightmarish conduct. It took real “intestinal fortitude” for these now grown men to stand up to the asshole who took their innocence, and you really have to respect how these men conducted themselves to ensure that justice would be served to someone who now deserves the living hell he’ll face in State Penn after ruining these kids at Penn State. What these kids went through, and how they’ve matured into men now, men who have made sure that this creep doesn’t hurt anyone else is a whole lot more than the paid officials running an institution of higher learning ever did. Their actions are way more important than what new coach Bill O’Brien’s team will face next year or any other sports action between the lines, this was real life.
Joe Paterno, may God have mercy on your soul. Everyone else (including Sandusky, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, and Graham Spanier), your time will come and justice will eventually be served. The more important thing is that we, as sports lovers and followers, is to make sure that we never allow anything like this to ever reach the levels that it did again and that we call out negative action as soon as we see, hear, or even suspect it. Any child forced to go through anything like this reflects negatively on us as a culture, and even more as sports admiring fans, and we simply cannot ever let anything like this ever come close to happening. This is so unacceptable it makes me want to vomit every time I hear it mentioned, and I hope my loyal readers feel the exact same way.