My initial thoughts on the Penn State tragedy – it is more tragedy than scandal – was incredulity as to the breadth and length of its existence. Although much of the focus was on one night where assistant coach Mike McQueary came upon a horrific scene, that incident may be one of many -- dozens perhaps -- over the course of many years.
I realize I do not have all the facts and we presume innocence in this country. As the father of two young boys, however, my blood has boiled throughout watching this chapter. And, after watching a couple of minutes of Bob Costas’ interview with Jerry Sandusky last night, I had to turn it off. Costas is a brilliant interviewer but to hear Sandusky enjoy “horsing around, touching boys legs and showering with boys” but deny improper contact was infuriating. Seriously?
I was speaking at an event last week where I addressed the issue. In the course of my comments I said “I don’t want to use the term ‘cover-up’ but...” An audience member interrupted me: “Why wouldn’t you use that term? Isn’t that exactly what happened?” Perhaps.
I have been asked what change may come out of this. Simply, Penn State football will lose its sense of power and entitlement.
The Penn State scandal points to an unwritten rule there and probably at other top college football programs: there are different rules for football than for other departments in the institution. The football program at Penn State needs fixing.
The press conference held by the Board of Trustees last week was—while hastily arranged and lacking in decorum—an impressive and necessary show of leadership. John Surma, vice chairman of the Board and CEO of U.S. Steel, was controlled and poised in the face of chaos and high emotion. He stayed on task and didn’t waver from his message: the Board made a decision based on what information they had. It was clear and decisive, traits lacking at the University for too long regarding this tragedy.
ICONPaterno was probably one of many that knew of Sandusky's behavior.
No isolated incident
The issue is far beyond Joe Paterno. He is simply the leader of a department that has been coddled. Penn State football appears to have lorded over all other departments in the vast University system.
So far we know that the athletic director, two administrators, Paterno, and McQueary knew what Sandusky was doing with young boys. To think that (1) the incident that McQueary witnessed was an isolated incident, or (2) these were the only people that knew about Sandusky would be incredibly naïve.
The fact that Sandusky was bringing boys into the football facility seems unbelievably brazen. Sandusky acted in ways that seemed to call out his evil as if to say, “You can’t stop me.” There are more examples.
The title of Sandusky’s 2001 book is “Touched” One can only envision the smirk on his face when he submitted the title to his publisher.
Sandusky took boys on Penn State road trips, including a bowl game.
Sandusky’s home abuts an elementary school playground.
Sandusky – free on $100,000 bond for 40 acts of child abuse, only $25,000 more than the Penn State administrators had for lying to a grand jury -- has been seen since the news broke wearing Penn State gear.
Sandusky’s charity serves young boys needing a mentor figure in their lives, putting these boys squarely in the lion’s den.
Sandusky appears to have acted in audacious and narcissistic ways, as if to say, “Yes, I’m doing this. What are you going to do about it?”
No head coaching offers
Even beyond the Penn State administration, obviously asleep at the switch, didn’t we all -- fans, media, alumni, neighbors, etc -- miss something? Wasn’t Jerry Sandusky, who “retired” at age 55, a respected defensive coordinator at one of the top programs in the country? Did the small world of college football know this dark secret as well?
Ushering in a new era
Transgressions at places such as USC and Ohio State for agent contact and free tattoos now seem quite benign.
It is Penn State, with its pristine uniforms and previously clean reputation that had a predator within its borders. At best, Penn State football allowed Sandusky’s chilling behavior to exist without appropriate intervention. At worst, it enabled Sandusky. Years of litigation will determine where along the spectrum its actions lie.
Power and privilege
Having been around the business of football for 25 years I understand the sway that money brings. The $72 million in gross revenue brought in by Penn State football bestowed great power and privilege to Paterno and the program.
Paterno used that influence to enhance the lives of the students at Penn State. However, based on these reports, he also abused it to allow horrific acts to take place on his watch.
One can only imagine the conversation that took place between Paterno and Sandusky about the latter’s actions, if such a conversation ever took place. Did Paterno and Sandusky feel they were so far above and immune from the authority of the university that this was a “private matter” that didn’t need to be addressed further?
Change in entitlement
It appears that whatever did or did not happen over these years (decades) with Sandusky, it happened for one reason: because it could. While children were being victimized, adults were either afraid or unwilling to do the right thing.
After the internal investigation, I would expect Penn State’s football program to have the same rules and oversight as all other departments throughout the vast university. Penn State football will serve at the behest of the University’s greater good, rather than vice versa.
It is a terrible tragedy that it took a deviant man to effectuate change, but the age of entitlement for Penn State football, and perhaps other programs ahead, has ended.
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