Unless you live underneath a rock, you’ve probably heard of the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) sex abuse scandal that has rocked the football-centric University. Thus far it has led to the end of football couch Joe Paterno’s 46 year long career and the firing of university president Graham Spanier. I’m not a follower of college football, nor do I really follow football at all, but I’ve been following this story with unwavering attention; watching the details of this case unfold, it’s impossible not to get spitting mad.
The details of the scandal are disturbing to say the least. Former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has been charged with 40 counts related to the sexual abuse of boys he met through his charitable organization, Second Mile. A grand jury report shows that incidents go back over a decade, and occurred in Penn State locker rooms and showers.
According to the report, several witnesses came forward with reports of Sandusky’s sexual abuse. As early as 2000, a janitor who witnessed Sandusky performing oral sex on a ten-year-old boy in the showers reported the incident to his supervisor, who did not report the incident to officials. In 2002, then-graduate assistant and current assistant couch Mike McQuery informed Paterno that he witnessed Sandusky raping another ten-year-old boy in the Penn State Lasch Football building. Paterno informs university administrators. What recourse is taken? McQuery was told that Sandusky has been barred from bringing children onto campus.
No investigation began until 2009, after another victim reported that he was sexually abused by Sandusky to the authorities.
Adding to the list of people who were involved in this scandal are Tim Curley, the university’s athletic director, and Gary Shultz, the university’s senior vice-president for finance and business. They have been charged with perjury and failing to report what they knew of the allegations.
As a student, I would be outraged to learn that the leaders of my institution protected a violent sexual predator for years, during which time Sandusky allegedly abused dozens of victims. But what did thousands of Penn State students take to the streets for? Not to voice their outrage over the blatant, shameful failure to do anything to protect these boys, but to parade and chant in support of Paterno.
As the most successful college football coach in U.S. history, Paterno was a football institution at a school probably better known for it’s football program than academics. Last year, the school’s football program brought in over US$70 million in revenue. As Buzz Bissinger, the Pulitzer prize winning author of Friday Night Lights, pointed out in his biting column for the Daily Beast, Paterno had “instant credibility” and arguably had more influence than university officials themselves. This sentiment was demonstrated in his annual salary for 2009, which clocked in at over US$1 million, higher than that of the university president himself. It perhaps gives some explanation as to why students were so quick to defend their beloved coach. Football is more than a game for Penn State, it’s part of their identity.
Yet if he really was the father figure to Penn State that everyone describes him as, why didn’t he act like one when it really counted? According to the allegations, he had a chance to put a stop to Sandusky’s rampant abuse, and he didn’t. “When he had a chance to be a man [ . . . ] he should have sat down with that graduate assistant, who was an eye witness to brutal sodomy and said ‘son, either you’re going to the police or if you’re scared, I’ll go with you,’” Bissinger passionately argued on CBC. But instead, Paterno passed along information to university officials, and that’s it.
In his column, Bissinger argues that this case is reflective of college football culture as a whole. “Totally disconnected from the academic experience, they are insulated kingdoms with their own rules and reigns of terror because of the money they make, trading in illegal recruiting and illegal gifts and illegal favors, and now, thanks to Penn State, alleged sexual abuse of children by a former coach who must have assumed he would always be protected,” he writes.
This case goes so much further than Paterno, and it’s maddening that there has been so much focus on the fall of his legendary career when all evidence suggests that Penn State coaching staff and university officials did nothing to stop a sexual predator in their own institution. Yet I seem to be reading editorial after editorial on how incredible his coaching was, and not on this central issue of the entire scandal, and watching students of Penn state choose to defend a football coach rather than victims of abuse.
You don’t need to know much about college football to know that this is absolutely disgraceful.