Now that the verdict is in—now that Jerry Sandusky is no longer an “alleged” child predator and his accusers can’t be labeled as “alleged” victims—the road toward justice truly begins. For anyone who thinks the difficult part is over, think again. It’s easy to shake our heads at the monster Sandusky. It’s easy to respond like the people who gathered at the courthouse in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, and cheer while clowning around for the cable news cameras. It’s easy to feel satisfied now that the 68-year-old Sandusky was found guilty and will spend the remainder of his miserable life in prison. It’s easy to do what we’ve always done in this country as Sandusky was walked out the courthouse’s back door “just 50 yards downhill from where they used to hang criminals in the courtyard of the old county jail.”
America’s always been very good at forming a crowd ready to cheer a good hanging. The national fabric has been woven with witch trials, executions, torture and, now, presidential kill lists—and on it goes. We love to slay those we label as monsters. We are less vigilant about the people who allow the monsters to roam the countryside. They get to write books, give lectures and be guests on the late-night talk-show circuit. (See: Rumsfeld, Donald.)
There are many “Rumsfelds” in the People vs. Jerry Sandusky. During the trial, two facts kept appearing like a recurring malignancy. The first was something we already knew: that Jerry Sandusky’s godlike stature as defensive football guru at Penn State was his tool both for attracting children and winning the unquestioned trust of parents or guardians. The other stubborn fact is that people in positions of power at the university and in state politics smothered accusations as they swirled around Sandusky and his children’s charity, the Second Mile.
Law enforcement was aware of allegations against Sandusky going back to 1995. At Penn State, the awareness that something was “off” about Sandusky’s interaction with children reaches back even further. They chose not to act or, in the case of late coach Joe Paterno, did the bare legal minimum—and as a result, more children were harmed. Brand protection for both the football program and a research university with a $1.8 billion endowment mattered more to those in power than acting aggressively. Graduate assistant Mike McQueary’s infamous actions in the Penn State showers upon catching Sandusky sodomizing a child—slam a locker, tell someone in a position of power, try to forget it—is symbolic of actions up the chain of command. It’s a chain of command that goes all the way to the office of the governor and former state attorney general, Tom Corbett.
Corbett released a statement after the verdict saying, “I…want to commend the multiple victims in this case who had the courage to come forward and testify in court, confronting Sandusky, and proving beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty of these reprehensible crimes.”
You would never know from the above words that the governor is far from an innocent bystander. As the state’s attorney general in 2009, Corbett headed a state investigation into accusations against the revered former coach. Although his office denies it, there are multiple confirmations that Corbett assigned no one from his office to follow up on the charges: just one state trooper, a state trooper “not authorized to bring charges against Sandusky.”
In addition, when Corbett was sworn in as governor in 2011, he still had not informed the Second Mile Foundation that their founder was under investigation. Instead, as a candidate for governor, he took $650,000 in donations from members of the Second Mile’s unsuspecting board, even allowing the chairman to hold a fundraiser for his campaign.
Upon being elected, Corbett then moved deftly from doing nothing to immediately trying to deflect the entire weight of the scandal onto Joe Paterno and Penn State itself, using his recently appointed position as a member of the school’s Board of Trustees (an automatic appointment for all Pennsylvania governors) to do so.
ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported,
As Pennsylvania’s attorney general, [Corbett] investigated Sandusky for nearly two years but failed to make an arrest. But then, as governor, he blamed the university’s leaders for not doing more. One was Paterno, who some board members believed wielded too much power. The other was university president Graham B. Spanier, a 16-year veteran and Corbett rival who had become a vocal opponent of the governor’s efforts to slash higher education funding. And when he was on campus the next day, after Spanier’s resignation and Paterno’s firing, he celebrated the leadership changes. “Throughout this whole process, I felt he had some ulterior motive,” a trustee says of Corbett. “Most trustees felt uncomfortable with his role. It was odd for him to be there and participate the way he did. Very odd.”
Governor Corbett has much to answer for in the weeks and months ahead. But unlike the monster Sandusky or Joe Paterno, the hardly blameless but all-too-convenient lightning rod, he can ride this out unless there’s some semblance of public outrage. Corbett has a public relations team, a press office and national ambitions. We just have a snapshot that certainly makes it appear that Corbett personified what’s meant by “the banality of evil.” Sandusky’s conviction will convince many that, now that the monster is behind bars, we should move on. But if we want to make sure that monsters don’t roam the countryside in the future, we had better hold the lord of the manor to account.