A phalanx of uniformed men threw a blanket over the coach’s bronze likeness with its right hand still pointing to the heavens -- and carted it off like it was on a metallic perp walk.
Far more painful to the athletic department than the removal of its iconic effigy was the “corrective and punitive” sanctions the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Monday, related to Paterno’s repeated failures to protect young victims of sexual assault by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
The powerful college sports organization levied a $60 million fine, revoked victories from 1998 to 2011, imposed a four-year ban from bowl games and canceled scholarships. Eager to demonstrate its high moral standards, the NCAA, which has its own reputation to consider, meted out one of the most severe penalties of the association's history.
Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse last month and is awaiting sentencing. Paterno is dead, at least two other once-powerful university executives are facing criminal trials, and the storied football club is in the penalty box. Several victims have retained lawyers and the public university will no doubt be offering up generous settlements. Everyone involved has learned a lesson.
But somehow it still does not feel to me like justice has been served. The story of one unidentified victim particularly haunts me.
In February 2001 a graduate assistant in the football program returned to the support staff locker room late on a Friday and, as detailed in the Freeh report, heard “rhythmic slapping sounds” from the shower, where he witnessed a “prepubescent” 10- or 12-year-old boy with Sandusky “directly behind” him with his arms around the boy’s midsection and the child’s hands against the wall. The witness startled Sandusky and he released the boy but although both the child and his rapist “looked directly at” him, the flustered assistant quickly left the building.
He reported the scene he had encountered to Paterno the next morning, but despite much head-scratching and uncomfortable posturing among the coach, his bosses, the campus police, and the college general counsel, not one of them reported the incident to the proper child protection experts or law enforcement officers. Freeh noted in his investigation “at no time did [university president Graham] Spanier, [senior VP Gary] Schultz, Paterno or [athletic director Tim] Curley try to identify the child in the shower or whether the child had suffered harm.”
That anonymous youngster must be in his early 20s now. Despite the considerable sanctions Penn State is now facing, I’d feel better if I believed someone was tracking him down and requiring all those adults who failed to rescue him to apologize.
Bonnie Goldstein is on Twitter @KickedByAnAngel.