Nov 10, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
When you address the sudden, shocking downfall of Joe Paterno, there is a small story and large story to consider.
The smaller story is his own coaching career – 61 years at Penn State, 46 of them as head coach, the wins, the national championships, the young men he molded, the generosity and loyalty to State College.
Paterno stayed way too long, fearful that, if he ever retired, he would die quickly, as Bear Bryant did. By hanging on, he allowed a culture of enabling to grow, both in the Penn State football program and its administration.
It would have sickening consequences. And those consequences are, of course, the larger story we have totally forgotten, much to our own collective shame.
Jerry Sandusky, Paterno’s long-time assistant coach and thought at one time to be his heir apparent, is charged with multiple counts of sexual assault against boys he had met through the Second Mile charity he founded in 1977.
To go through those charges in detail is too vile for this publication. The best thing for anyone that wants a full, brutal picture of what Sandusky allegedly did can go find the 23-page Grand Jury report from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office that indicted him, along with two Penn State administrators who were charged with perjury.
Not that you’ve heard about Sandusky in these recent days, though. The desire to crush Paterno, who preached so much about values and priorities, has engulfed this story, to the point of totally obscuring the whole reason we were here in the first place.
Understand, Penn State’s Board of Trustees had no alternative but to dismiss Paterno, along with school president Graham Spanier. They were part of a systemic failure, at Penn State and elsewhere, involving adults not reporting vile criminal behavior to proper authorities, allowing the pattern to continue, and for boys to be scarred for life.
And that’s where we must return the focus, or this whole sordid tale will have no meaning, and will instead get treated as just another scandal in a line of scandals, which would be truly awful.
We live in a sensational culture. Nothing causes more sensation than the topic of sex. In this instance, of course, it’s elevated because it involves sex crimes against children, and if we had any rationality to ourselves, we would devote every waking moment to shedding light on this topic and making sure people are brought to justice.
Ah, but that would be too difficult. Better, in the Sandusky case, to focus on the one incident in 2002 where Paterno was reportedly told about Sandusky’s behavior and reported it to higher-ups at Penn State. Then condemn Paterno at the highest possible volume, run him out of his job, and utterly forget every other detail of the story.
Except that every other detail is important. There are nine victims in the Grand Jury report, most of them taking place outside the Penn State campus, young lives utterly ruined and adults in power that consistently refused to report Sandusky’s alleged behavior to authorities.
Worse yet, there are many more boys that may step forward and claim that Sandusky abused them. Yet their tales, however valid, may get swept aside or ignored because they didn’t involve Penn State or Paterno, who are the real targets, right?
As a society, we have a fundamental obligation to protect our most vulnerable. All of the adults in the Sandusky case failed in that obligation and the dismissal of Paterno cannot, and should not, absolve the other parties.
Over and over, in the cacophony of stories and analyses surrounding this whole awful affair, we have heard and read commentators and pundits implore with us to remember the victims and their families, that they count the most – followed promptly by another round of Paterno-bashing that, naturally, minimizes those same victims and same families that they supposedly care so much about.
Okay, so here’s a challenge to those talking heads. If you care so much about the kids, if you really want us to focus on the damage done to them, then spend more time following the full arc of the Sandusky case to its conclusion than you did going after Joe Paterno. Then I’ll know that you mean it, but I’m not holding my breath.
This whole saga has horrified and saddened people inside and outside of the sports realm. Understand, though, that the abrupt ending of a legendary coach’s career, despite the outsized attention it gets, is a small matter. The protection and safety of kids counts far, far more.