There is a monster in this story, and it might not be who you think it is.
As the old saying goes, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If that’s the case, then what do you call doing the same EVIL thing over and over again, and expecting different results? A commitment to wrongness? A study in immorality? John Wayne Gacy? How about Penn State University?!
The recent reports out of State College, Pennsylvania have been disturbing and heart-breaking, to say the least. Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, has been indicted on charges of sexually abusing eight boys, as far back as 1998. The details of the grand jury report are difficult to read without cringing, but let us take a moment to step back, and look at this panorama of disfunction from a different perspective.
Let’s not focus on Jerry Sandusky, the true face of evil in this story. If the allegations prove correct, he will be lucky to suffer the rest of his days in a jail cell. And let’s not focus on the boys who Sandusky allegedly molested. They are the victims in this story. Their suffering unimaginable, their wounds and scars reopened (though never closed), their healing process continually ongoing, their lives forever changed.
Instead, let’s focus on the cowardly monster in this story. The monster that has numerous faces, and yet hopes to remain faceless just the same. There is safety in numbers, but who is it that’s being kept safe? There are lessons to be learned from such difficult tragedies, but exactly what are we learning?
The faceless monster, the bad student, is not an individual. It is a group. It is an institution. In this story, the beast is Penn State University. Penn State continues to get this wrong, over and over and over again. And it appears they are hellbent on continuing down a path of dysfunction.
Penn State was wrong in 1998 when they ignored, neglected, and put on the back-burner, a thirty page on-campus police report about Sandusky’s allegedly “creepy” behavior with boys in showers.
Penn State was wrong when they continued to allow Sandusky to use the campus (even after he was no longer employed by the university) for overnight retreats with young boys under the guise/umbrella of The Second Mile, Sandusky’s charity devoted to “helping” young boys.
Penn State was wrong when they continued to allow Sandusky to run an overnight football camp for kids (some as young as nine years old), on campus, as recently as 2009.
Penn State was wrong when they continued to allow Sandusky on campus, with access to the football team’s weight room, as recently as last week.
And Penn State was wrong once again, when they decided to turn a blind eye to all the warning signs and misdeeds in the football program, for the past thirteen years. They protected their win-loss record, they protected their pockets, they protected their legendary head coach, but they should have been protecting the young lives they swear to improve “the well being and health of” in their university mission statement. By not doing anything at all, the university sent a clear message about its mixed up priorities.
For over a decade (with knowledge of Sandusky’s behavior), Penn State University chose to protect Joe Paterno and his “legacy.” Joe Paterno is a football legend and a coaching icon. When it comes to football x’s and o’s, he is a mastermind. I don’t know Mr. Paterno personally, but I do know neither he nor his legacy needed protection. He is not Jerry Sandusky, he did not (allegedly) commit those heinous crimes. But those heinous crimes happened under his watch, his supposed inaction makes him complicit. Paterno (once it was brought to his attention in 2002) reportedly told his superiors of Sandusky’s “creepy” behavior. But it appears he didn’t follow through, and he didn’t do nearly enough.
This is a sad story of betrayal – betrayal of trust, betrayal of good values, betrayal of innocence. Unfortunately, Penn State has been sending the wrong message for so long, they have made it difficult for many to know which way is up, which path is correct, which choice is right.
Even after all these events have come to light, even after his firing, Paterno still has a large group of loyal, dedicated, and vocal supporters. Many of the Penn State students have rallied in support of him. The football team has vowed to win their remaining games in honor of their fired coach. But exactly who are we honoring? What are we fighting for? All along Penn State should have been fighting for those young men who became victims of Sandusky’s sick (alleged) crimes. But the university was (just as many of their students are now) more interested in protecting one man with a legacy, instead of a group of innocent individuals with forever impacted futures. Now both hang tediously in the balance.
It deeply saddens me, as a man (and human being) to see such a hellbent obsession with winning. Perhaps it is the American way. Perhaps it is the way of the world. But this win-at-all-costs attitude is, well, costly. It has cost Penn State University their dignity, Joe Paterno his legacy, and many young boys their innocence. It is time to stop being so obsessed with winning, and start worrying about how we play the game (of life).
And if Paterno’s recent firing is supposed to be a sign to the rest of us that Penn State University has suddenly found its moral compass, then the university powers-that-be need to take another long look in the mirror. They only “found their way”, after the very recent media storm of anger, sadness, disapproval, and disappointment. Their recent actions (the firing of Paterno and resignation of their president) are not nearly enough to make up for their long history of inaction and negligence. It’s the right move, but at the wrong time. It’s too late in the game now, and the score has already been decided. This a contest which everyone has lost.
The GMP on Penn State:
Paterno and Pedestals, Julie Gillis
When the Game Becomes Religion, Gary Percesepe
Male Lust Arrives in Happy Valley, Tom Matlack
Destroying a Young Boy’s Soul, Ken Solin
Power Is at the Core of Sexual Harassment, Mervyn Kaufman
Men, Monsters, and the Media, Nicole Johnson
Loyalty and Responsibility at Penn State, Andrew Smiler
Jerry Sandusky and Penn State: A Familiar Story, Sophia Sadinsky
I Failed, Rick Morris
Sandusky-ed, Tim Green