The child sex-abuse scandal involving a longtime Paterno lieutenant cost Paterno his job, along with those of the university president and two top administrators, and set forth a torrent of emotions, manifested in extremes — from ugly riots to somber candlelight vigils, from vitriol directed toward the media to an examination directed inward. It was all in hopes of explaining how and why such a thing could have happened in an idyllic community known as Happy Valley.
The scandal has exploded nationally, prompting universal questions of economics (has big-time college football become too lucrative and too corrupt to contain?), sociology (how could a child-predator have fooled so many people for so long?), philosophy (how far does one’s duty extend to stop and report a criminal act?) and, of course, law.
Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State defensive coordinator charged with molesting at least eight boys between 1994-2009, is free on $100,000 bail and awaiting his first hearing Dec. 7. Through an attorney, he has maintained his innocence.
But on this particular campus, as the Nittany Lions prepare to take the field again Saturday against visiting Nebraska — the school’s first game since 1949 without Paterno on the coaching staff — the biggest question facing everyone is simple: How do we recover and move on from this?
“Moving forward is the only responsible course to take in the coming months,” said interim university president Rodney Erickson. “This is a terrible tragedy for everyone involved, and it will take some time to bring a measure of understanding and resolution to the community.”
A whirlwind arrives
On that Friday morning a week ago, callers to Jeff Byers’s daily sports-talk show on radio station WRSE in State College were debating Penn State’s uncertain quarterback situation, with a few dreamers wondering if the Nittany Lions could make a stealth run at a national title.
“The town was buzzing about what was going to happen in those last three games after the bye week,” Byers said. “Nobody was prepared for what was about to come crashing down.”
It came crashing down at 2:26 that afternoon, when the story hit the Web site of the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa.: Sandusky, who at one time had been considered Paterno’s likely successor as head coach, had been indicted on 40 sex-crime charges. Two top university officials, athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president for finance Gary Schultz, were charged with perjury and with failing to properly report the crimes to authorities.