After forty-six seasons coaching at Penn State University, coach Joe Paterno now faces a crisis that could burn the storied football program to the ground. And if recent charges are true, his legacy deserves to burn along with it. For those who haven’t heard, longtime assistant Jerry Sandusky, 67, who coached the vaunted Nittany Lions defense for twenty-three years, has been charged with forty sex crimes against boys dating from 1994 to 2005. All of the minors were under the care of Sandusky’s charity for impoverished youth, The Second Mile Foundation, which Sandusky founded in 1977. As the grand jury presentment stated: “Through The Second Mile, Sandusky had access to hundreds of boys, many of whom were vulnerable due to their social situations.” Sandusky is denying all charges through his attorney, but the grand jury report is a damning and detailed account of a man exercising his power and authority to rape young boys.
On one level, it’s a horror story we’ve heard before: vulnerable children become targets for the very people trusted with their care. But this case is far, far worse, because it could have been stopped in time to spare future victims. It could have been stopped, but it wasn’t because the image of Joe Paterno Nittany Lion Football was deemed more important than the children at risk.
The grand jury summation describes one scene where Sandusky was caught raping 10-year-old “Victim Number 2” in the Penn State football team shower. The graduate student who witnessed it was “distraught” and “traumatized.” Did he go to the police? No, he went directly to Joe Paterno’s home. Paterno immediately turned the matter over to athletic director Tim Curley and, for reasons I don’t understand, Gary Schultz, the senior vice president of finance and business. Curley and Schultz conferred and acted. According to the grand jury report, they sat Sandusky down and said that he could no longer use Penn State football facilities while accompanied by Second Mile children. That’s it. Pennsylvania state law requires Curley, Schultz and Paterno to have reported the charges to the police. They didn’t. (Curley and Schultz are being charged with perjury and obstruction. Paterno is not.)
Curley even admitted to the grand jury that he “advised Sandusky that he was prohibited from bringing youth onto the Penn State campus from that point forward.” Yet as Deadspin.com reported, even this “punishment” was fictional. As late as 2009, Sandusky was on campus running a sleep-away camp for boys as young as nine years old. One alleged victim told the grand jury that Sandusky brought him to a Penn State preseason practice in 2007—a full five years after Paterno was made aware of the shower rape. This is why it’s hard to take seriously Paterno’s statement on Sunday, where he said, “If this is true we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families. They are in our prayers.”