John Feinstein writes: “If the sexual abuse and assault charges brought by a Pennsylvania grand jury against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky prove to be true on any level, then this will be the single worst thing that has happened in college sports in just about forever.” What was one of the crown jewel of college football programs is now properly regarded as a deformed and demented undertaking. The New York Times reports:
The Pennsylvania attorney general and the state police commissioner excoriated Penn State officials on Monday for failing over several years to alert the authorities to possible sexual abuse of young boys by a prominent football assistant.
They said the university employees who declined to report the incidents to the police put countless more children at risk of being abused by Jerry Sandusky, the longtime assistant who has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year span, including during his tenure as an assistant at Penn State. Frank Noonan, the police commissioner who spent more than 30 years with the F.B.I. and the attorney general’s office, said the nature of the alleged incidents was unprecedented in his experience.
If true, from janitors to the athletic director and the vice president for business and finance, a series of individuals placed their own selfish interests above the interests of helpless children. They enabled a monster.
The distinction between those individuals and Penn State head coach Joe Paterno seems to be minimal, based on what we know. The attorney general contends “Paterno had cooperated with investigators and fulfilled his legal obligation to pass the information to a superior when, in 2002, the graduate assistant told him about an incident involving Sandusky that he had witnessed in the football facility’s showers. Paterno is not considered a target of the investigation at this point, Kelly said. After the graduate assistant told Paterno, Curley and Schultz about what he had seen, Curley briefed the university president, according to the grand jury report. No one at the university alerted the police or pursued the matter to determine the well-being of the [still unidentified] child involved.” In other words, Paterno didn’t call the police either. Hall of Fame coach or a modern-day Pontius Pilatus? The latter, I fear.
Does he escape the prosecutor’s wrath because he is Joe Paterno? Because he cooperated with officials? Because he didn’t compound his gross sin of omission by lying under oath, as others allegedly did? As my colleague Eugene Robinson puts it: “Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno said, ‘I did what I was supposed to.’ In fact, nobody at Penn State did what basic human decency requires — and as a result, according to prosecutors, an alleged sexual predator who could have been stopped years ago was allowed to continue molesting young boys.”
Many are calling for Paterno to be fired. That’s the least that should occur. The dilemma remains: After the legal process finishes with those subject to criminal sanctions, how does Penn State atone? On one level it cannot restore to the children whose lives were ruined what was taken from them. There’s no apology that would suffice; no civil settlement that could reverse the damage.
This is the very definition of corruption — the “impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle : depravity.” And for that, the solution, it seems, must be to excise that corruption from the body of the university and reestablish the purpose and virtue of the institution. End the football program. Let the recruits go elsewhere. Level the stadium or better yet, let it decay and crumble and be an eyesore, a fitting metaphor for the program that was suffused with moral rot.
The notion that the university serves the football program should be pulled out by the roots. The university should in essence declare that henceforth there will be no confusing the priorities of the institution.
Oh, but the poor players! The athletes who wouldn’t go to college! Nonsense. There are other schools, other teams. College football will survive without Penn State, and Penn State, if it’s more than an excuse for a football team, will survive without football. And if Penn State serves as a permanent reminder ( “Why is it they have no football program?” they may ask decades from now) to those tempted to abuse power, abdicate moral responsibility or lie in pursuit of football victories, then a football-less Penn State would render some service, however paltry compared to the harm it has caused.
If what has been reported is true, what other action could be contemplated? And who in good conscience could watch and cheer a program that trampled on so many innocents for so little, for nothing other than pride and greed?