Monday, November 14, 2011


I had a brief back and forth with a guy from State College, PA, home of Joe Paterno. He said in State College, Paterno is thought of “as a king.” It was the idolatry that I found so stunning. I doubt that many of us outside of that Central Pennsylvania borough can relate to living in a town that is often referred to as “Happy Valley.” And most of us knew little about it or its small town America, football-dominated culture. After all, just the name of the place conjures Frank Capra movies. One expects Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson to come dancing down Main Street.

But no one is dancing in Happy Valley today. The king has been dethroned and his minions have been cuffed and booked. Former minion Jerry Sandusky is charged with 40 counts of child abuse. Coach Mike McQueary has been sidelined indefinitely after receiving threats for his part in the cover up of Sandusky’s multiple rapes of children. University President Graham Spanier has been fired, and as the holiday season approaches there is no peace in the Valley.

The guy I communicated with on Facebook said this: “Growing up there, Penn State football was everything and Joe Paterno (left) was our king.” He talked about how “heartbreaking” it is to see his idol destroyed. And he referred me to an article called “Growing Up Penn State,” by Michael Weinreb. Weinreb writes, “Sometimes we were guilty of regarding him as more deity than man, as if he presided over us in mythological stand-up form."

It is the worshipping of Paterno – affectionately called Joe Pa in Happy Valley – that so astounds those of us out here in the real world. At 84, after coaching Penn State for 46 seasons, Paterno broke his silence last week, saying “I should have done more.” Some might hear remorse in that statement, but I hear between the lines Paterno really saying, ‘I never thought anyone would find out.’ To many of us who do not have the emotional ties (read “obsession”) with Joe Pa or the Penn State over-the-top football culture, Paterno’s laissez-faire approach to Sandusky’s (above, right) crimes seem quite ominous. It appears State College, PA was a town built almost exclusively on college football, and it seems Paterno was intent on protecting the institution and the game. And it seems clear he intended to protect the school to the detriment of 10-year-old boys who were raped by one of his coaches.

We are a nation built on paternalism and egalitarianism. Those kids who Sandusky raped were supposed to be protected by somebody. If not Sandusky, then McQueary,(below, left) who witnessed Sandusky actually having anal intercourse with a 10-year-old boy in the locker room showers. Since McQueary was reportedly so distraught he ran out of the room and called his father, then perhaps his father could have immediately called the police, but he did not. His father reported the incident to Paterno, who reported the incident to university officials, but he and they chose not to call the police. All the grownups, including Joe Pa, chose to put a lid on it -- for 13 years.

Talk radio is fully abuzz with this story, and from the radio I learned of something called The Clery Act. It is this piece of federal legislation that may be the ultimate undoing of Penn State. The Clery Act requires universities that receive federal financial aid to fully report and disclose crimes that occur on or near their campuses. With regard to crimes of a sexual nature, the Clery Act clearly states that incidences reported to campus security of “sex offenses, forcible or nonforcible” must be disclosed. If morality were not an issue with Penn State, perhaps their ties with governmental financial aid should have been. If Penn State is found in clear violation of The Clery Act, they may lose all access to student financial aid.

On Nov. 9, the U.S. Department of Education notified Penn State that an investigation has been initiated into Penn State’s alleged coverup of Jerry Sandusky’ s sexual crimes. If found in clear violation of the Act, Penn State will at a minimum be fined $27,500 per violation, but due to the heinous nature of what happened in Happy Valley, one might expect the Department of Education to impose much stiffer penalties.

Having worked many years in the corporate system and then many more years in higher education, I have observed that these types of things do not escape the rumor mill. My guess is that many, many people knew what happened in that shower and beyond. So it was with great interest that I read the words of former Oklahoma University and Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer (above, left), who said in an interview with the Daily Oklahoman newspaper, “Having been in this profession a long time and knowing how close coaching staffs are, I knew that this was a secret that was kept secret. Everyone on that had to have known, the ones that had been around a long time.” Switzer should know of what he speaks. His own team had its share of clandestine, illegal secrets, although none were sexual in nature.

The judicial system will accommodate some of the justice that needs to be done here. But just some. Others, who have not been charged with a crime will serve their own inevitable sentences. When night falls in Happy Valley, and Joe Pa and McQueary and every other person who knew of Sandusky’s rapes of children close their eyes, they have to live inside themselves knowing what they did. They enabled Sandusky to permanently scar children – chances run high that we’ll never really know how many men are out there who were overpowered mentally and physically by Sandusky. Those who knew can never really escape what they let happen – over and over again. I’d call that imprisonment – wouldn’t you?

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