That headline above is the first line of the last verse of the Pennsylvania State University Alma Mater, sung before football games among other places. Due to the apparent actions of one and the inaction of many, my university, not just the football program, has been shamed to an extent that is unfathomable.
I have spent the last several days trying to process the indictments against former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. For years, Sandusky is alleged to have abused boys in unspeakable ways. He will have his day in court (provided he doesn’t kill himself) and perhaps I will address him at the conclusion of his trial. My focus here is on what the administration of my university did not do in the face of apparent evil.
In 2002 Sandusky, who had retired in 1999 but retained full access to the program as an emeritus professor, was allegedly caught by a graduate assistant in a football building shower with a boy committing a horrible crime. The distraught graduate assistant reported it to head coach Joe Paterno, who reported to his superior Tim Curley that something had happened. Whether Paterno reported the specifics is unclear. Curley reported the alleged incident to university vice president Gary Schultz, who oversees campus police. Other than a slap on the wrist that was unenforceable, Sandusky faced no formal sanction or even an investigation from campus police. The higher the allegation went up the chain of command, the less serious it was taken.
The grad assistant and Paterno respected the chain of command of the closed culture of the football program and university, and it failed him. I can only imagine how often he has second guessed himself the last 9 years. Curley and Schultz are facing perjury charges and have taken administrative leave after giving testimony that the grand jury felt contradicted the grad assistant and Paterno. It is beyond my understanding that they have not yet resigned outright. Why Schultz chose not to have the campus police investigate the situation is beyond comprehension. Why university president Graham Spanier went along with this is also something I cannot understand. Even if they were unwilling to proceed legally, they could have used the power that the university has to keep Sandusky off campus and away from the program. Were they really worried about due process within the university’s own rules and regulations? What were they worried about? Would Sanduksy complain to the Faculty Sen
ate or sue them and thus bring scruntity upon himself? Unbelievable! I feel a tremendous amount of anger and contempt towards the administration for doing NOTHING. Sandusky, apparently continued to use the football program facilities until LAST WEEK.
Next up is Paterno. For the last 4 decades, he has portrayed himself as the conscience of college football and has largely acted accordingly. This, combined with winning more games than any other Division I coach, gave him tremendous power over not just his own football program, but the entire university. He has been bigger than the university since at last 1983 when after winning Penn State first consensus National Championship, he challenged the university to make itself better and went and raised hundreds of millions of dollars to serve that end. Paterno may have been bigger than the university even earlier, perhaps when he said this at commencement in 1973 in reference to Richard Nixon crowing Texas as the 1969 National Champion before the bowl games with Penn State ranked #2:
I don’t understand how Richard Nixon could know so much about college football in 1969 and so little about Watergate in 1973
To paraphrase his own words:
I don’t understand how Joe Paterno could know so much about Watergate in 1973 and so little about what was going on in the football building in 2002.
While Paterno was apparently responsible in accordance of the law, that is not good enough! Someone so powerful, who was educated by Jesuits and the Ivy League, and who asserted his moral authority so many times before is compelled to do more than than Paterno did. He had the power and he chose not to use it. He could have done more! He chose not to and that is why he needs to step down immediately.
When the scandal first broke, I felt Paterno needed to resign, perhaps 50% because he did not do enough and 50% because he was the only administrator with any moral authority left and could use that one final time by leading the way for the others in doing the right thing for the university. At this time, he has neglected to do so. Frankly, I don’t really care about his legacy any more, because people create their own legacy and this is part of his whether he likes it or not, whether it is fair or not. He failed to live up to the values he preached in a most critical time. Free tattoos, cars, cash for recruits and all the other recent scandals are ultimately trivial compared what apparently occurred at Penn State.
The predator will have his day in court. The alleged victims…may they somehow find peace and strength after their ordeals that no one had the temerity to stop. The university has been shamed not only by an alleged predator, but by those who did not stand up to him. They should and will pay with their careers and good names. Penn State will need to find its way again with stronger people, stricter rules and more compassion. It will likely never be the same. Maybe it never actually was what they told us.
- William F. Yurasko
Class of 1999