By Rob Duffy
The NCAA has been plagued with a lot of scandals lately, but the far-reaching implications of this week’s Penn State scandal make it one of the worst in a long time.
Last Friday, former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged with 40 counts of sexually abusing eight young boys over a span of 15 years. Athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, vice president for finance and business, have also been charged with perjury and failing to report sexual abuse allegations.
In 2002, then-graduate assistant (and current assistant coach) Mike McQueary allegedly walked in on Sandusky performing a sex act on an approximately 10-year-old boy in the showers of the team’s locker room. (Sandusky had retired from the defensive coordinator position in 1999 but still had an office in Penn State’s football facilities.) McQueary met with Paterno the next day to tell him what he had seen, and Paterno reported the allegations to athletic director Tim Curley.
But nothing significant happened after that. Sandusky was told that he could no longer bring children from his charity Second Mile into the Penn State football building. This decision was approved by school president Graham Spanier, indicating that even the highest level of administration at the University was aware of the accusations against Sandusky. Yet there was evidently no further investigation. The incident was never reported to the police, and no attempt seems to have been made to identify the boy. Everyone who knew about the matter let it drop.
The nature of the alleged crimes is horrifying. If Sandusky is guilty, then he irreparably destroyed the lives of some of the very children he was ostensibly helping through his Second Mile charity. The Penn State administrators’ inaction facilitated the abuse by turning a blind eye and allowing it to continue. It is unclear precisely what McQueary told Paterno or how specific his allegations were, but that should not have mattered. Reports of child abuse clearly warranted at least a follow-up investigation, and police should have been involved from the very beginning. Paterno fulfilled his legal obligation to report the allegations to his superior, but he should have done more. Everyone involved should have done more, when there were children at stake.
But the scandal is even worse because of how astonishing it is that something like this could have happened at Penn State.
Paterno has been widely regarded as one of the greatest moral authorities in sports, having (until now) kept the Penn State football program largely free of scandal and completely free of NCAA violations through his 46 years as head coach. He deeply cares about academics, donating vast amounts of his salary back to the University. He has held his athletes to high standards and always seemed a perfect role model.
Penn State is a huge university, and its alumni populate much of Pennsylvania. For many of these alumni and other Nittany Lions fans as well, the school’s reputation has been legendary. Pride in Penn State has bound together millions of people across the state and across the country. It’s no coincidence that the team sells out home games regularly despite sitting over 100,000 in Beaver Stadium.
Neither I nor the legions of Penn State supporters across the country will forget everything that Paterno has done for the Nittany Lions over the course of his coaching career, but the perfect image and sense of pride that he spent the last forty years building is now gone forever. It’s too late to save it. The legend has come toppling down, and it deeply hurts to be forced to see the darkness underneath.
The slate needs to be wiped clean. Sad as it may be, the Board of Trustees needed to fire Paterno and Spanier. Schultz has already retired; Curley and McQueary need to go as well. The Nittany Lions need to leave this all behind and start building that legacy again, from scratch.
It will be a painful process, but a fitting penance for a university that should have acted sooner.