Most of all, you want to have an audience with one of sports’ most endearing icons, Joe Paterno, Happy Valley’s homespun saint, and ask Joe Pa, repeatedly, “While you were regaling everyone with sappy tales about meeting your wife 50 years ago over ice cream at the local creamery in State College, Pa., did you have any idea what your longtime defensive coordinator was doing in the company of young boys?”
If the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office is to be taken at its word — if the sad, sickening details of alleged sexual abuse of young boys by Jerry Sandusky are true — a once-immaculate program thought of as beyond reproach is now close to beyond redemption.
Paterno wasn’t charged, but if Sandusky is guilty, Paterno would be guilty — just as Penn State’s athletic director and a university vice president, who were charged with perjury and failure to report suspected child abuse on Saturday, would be guilty.
They would all be party to a worse crime than any crooked, pay-for-play booster at Miami, Ohio State or even SMU ever committed: guilty of protecting a program before a child.
You can’t read the 23-page grand jury report and come to any other conclusion; Penn State football and its pristine reputation apparently superseded the alleged sexual assault of a young boy — perhaps as many as eight young boys — over 15 years by Sandusky.
Joe Pa knew, if the charges are true.
They all knew.
And they never told police.
Penn State’s president and other university officials are standing behind Tim Curley, the athletic director, and Gary Schultz, the senior vice president of finance and business. They maintained both men handled a 2002 complaint about Sandusky properly — given what they knew of the situation at the time.
“I wish to say that Tim Curley and Gary Schultz have my unconditional support,” Penn State President Graham Spanier said in a statement, which an athletic department official said would be the school’s only comment on the matter. “I have known and worked daily with Tim and Gary for more than 16 years. I have complete confidence in how they have handled the allegations about a former University employee.”
In the statement issued by Penn State, the attorneys for Curley and Schultz said their clients are not guilty. Sandusky’s attorney told a Johnstown, Pa., television station that Sandusky “has maintained his innocence” after being aware of the allegations for more than three years.
Sandusky, 67, was charged, among other crimes, with seven counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, eight counts of corruption of minors, eight counts of endangering the welfare of a child and seven counts of indecent assault. The grand jury report says he met most of the boys through his Second Mile foundation, which helps at-risk children. He was arraigned and released on $100,000 bail on Saturday.
“I knew him the way I knew him; he was always someone I admired, respected and looked up to,” LaVar Arrington, who played for Sandusky in the late 1990s at the university nicknamed “Linebacker U,” said by telephone Saturday afternoon. “His foundation has helped tons of kids.”
But the former Redskins Pro Bowler and Penn State all-American linebacker, who is a contributor to washingtonpost.com, also added: “I’m not declaring anything. I’m neutral right now.”
“Because I am also a father and because the thought of one of my kids coming home and saying something bad happened to them like that, I can’t even think about it. I don’t want to discount the stories of the families and their children. Innocent or guilty, he’s tarnished himself by this. I’m very disappointed it’s actually even a possibility.”
According to the attorney general’s office, in 2002 a graduate student assistant went to Paterno’s home the day after he saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the shower late at night at Lasch Football Building on the Penn State campus. Paterno told Curley the next day.
About 10 days after the incident, Curley and Schultz met with the graduate assistant who had witnessed the abuse. Their executive action, according to the grand jury report: They told Sandusky that he could not bring any children from his foundation into the football building any more.
No one from Penn State — not Paterno, not the human neckties, no one — ever reported the alleged incident to law enforcement, which the grand jury report says is required under Pennsylvania law
In Warped Sports World, the don’t-ask, don’t-tell, sweep-it-clean behavior is rationalized as loyalty, having your coach’s or teammate’s back, moving on from the problem. It’s seen as a noble quality, putting the team’s needs — the university’s needs — before your own.
Certainly it can be argued that Paterno and Penn State would have been irrevocably hurt if these allegations had surfaced in a police report almost 10 years ago; a program whose legendary defensive coordinator was accused of being a pedophile would lose recruits and, by association, money and prestige. Who wouldn’t want that to go away?
But more unconscionable, if true: putting loyalty to the many, the program, in front of the victimization of even the one, a child.
They were kids. Boys. Some no older than 8 years old when they were allegedly abused by Sandusky between the years of 1994 and 2009, are now in their 20s, scarred forever by an adult they trusted. One testified under oath he hid in terror in Sandusky’s basement each time the coach came down the stairs.
For those who observed or were told about possible sexual abuse, never telling anyone beyond school officials is not merely an omission.
And if the grand jury’s report is right, the man with the most victories in the history of big-time college football knew.
Paterno and university officials knew they hadn’t employed a defensive coordinator; they had in effect empowered a sexual predator, who the report says spent the next seven years molesting more boys.
And because they possibly chose to protect Penn State’s brand instead of a child — a 10-year-old kid whom they never even bothered to find out the name of, according to the grand jury report — more children might have suffered because of their silence.
If the grand jury report is true, they all need to step down — even the great Joe Pa. It’s the least he could do.
For however long shame and guilt hover over his last days at Penn State it will never outlast the shame and guilt felt by those young boys. Nor will it bring back their innocence. Like the sheen of Joe Pa’s program, that may well be gone forever.