11.21.2011

KEEPING THE TITLE

As someone with an opinion on just about everything that has to do with the world of sports, I've learned to think before I speak. When a big story breaks, it is often unwise to go spouting off about something before all of the facts come out. Now, there are a lot of people that make a lot of money doing just that in print, television, and on the radio, but because I don't get paid to write about sports and because I don't have a deadline, I'm allowed to take a deep breath, digest all of the information and opinions that I've heard, and then levy my judgement at my leisure. When it comes to the scandal at Penn State though, the first reaction I had, the only human reaction anyone should have had, of pure disgust and unmitigated admonishment of everyone involved, has not changed one iota in the time that the story broke and now, when I finally set my fingers to the keys.

We have learned much and heard more from everyone in the world of sports journalism and the larger mainstream media outlets about this story, but it hasn't changed anything about the way I feel and what I think about what happened at Penn State. As a human being, it is easy to feel a knot in the stomach and a vivid anger in the heart when you hear that grown men either took part in the act of child rape and molestation or the ensuing cover up of the crime, so my opinion on the matter in that regard is shared and easily formed. What has seriously angered me in the aftermath of all of this sad, lurid business is that there remain pockets of the population that continue to support Penn State head coach Joe Paterno in any way, shape, or form. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to lend a friendly word or a piteous glance in Paterno's direction, no matter how much he has done for the university, its football program, or the community in State College, PA.

Paterno recently became the winningest coach in college football history and is perhaps its greatest example of elder statesmanship in an era where scandals of all shapes and forms continually flash across the headlines. This year alone has seen two of college football's biggest programs in Ohio State and Miami both have their reputations tarnished through the impropriety of players, coaches, boosters, and university officials, but as Sports Illustrated points out in their cover story on the Penn State scandal, the violations by those schools and similar situations at schools like North Carolina look effectively quaint in the shadow of what has happened at Linebacker U. Penn State coaches and officials are not guilty of covering up a player receiving cash for a job he didn't really work, trading his equipment and memorabilia for tattoos, or partying in strip clubs and yachts on a booster's dime. They are guilty of covering up what is perhaps the most heinous crime to ever be associated with a college football program, and need to be treated as such.

The details of the Penn State story get darker and darker the deeper you dig, as the aforementioned SI piece illustrated, but the central crime and the men related to its cover up are plainly guilty and their lives and legacies will never be the same. There is of course, former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who perpetrated the crimes of child molestation and rape in the Penn State showers, among other places, but his serial child molestation is not the only gut-wrenching crime that is evident here. Two more Penn State officials are already guilty of perjury for covering up Sandusky's actions, and head coach Joe Paterno did as little as humanly possible to make sure that Sandusky was punished and prosecuted for his crimes, though he did avoid a perjury charge of his own in his just-truthful-enough statement to the grand jury regarding the case.

So what we have at the end of the day is one sick, twisted individual carrying out crimes against young men he (gallingly) met through his charity for at-risk youth and several other grown men with sterling reputations risking their own morality and freedom to make sure that no one found out about it. Sandusky is a bone-chilling figure (not to mention an imposing one at over 6 feet tall and 200 lbs. plus), to be certain. Not only did he carry out these crimes, but if you listen to him being interviewed by Bob Costas (seriously, click that link if you haven't seen the interview and haven't recently eaten) on national television and responding to blunt, terse questions like "Are you sexually attracted to young boys?" by first having to repeat the question to give himself time to think, then answering with a kind of "aw shucks, I was just horsing around" duplicity, every ounce of your humanity urges you to hop a plane to Pennsylvania to give this guy exactly what he deserves.  And this terrible, awful individual was protected from upon high at Penn State by Paterno, the Pope of college football (insert Catholic priest joke here), which sullies the legacy of perhaps the sport's all-time greatest and most venerated leader. 

As Dan Patrick recently pointed out on his well-listened-to radio program, if this does not constitute lack of institutional control, a charge that gets mentioned whenever the NCAA is investigating a large scandal at any university, then what exactly does? Sure there isn't any rampant disregard for rules regarding paying players or special favors for athletes, but what we're dealing with at Penn State is far more widespread and insidious. Sandusky has had the cloud of child molestation charges hanging over him for ten years and no one thought to do anything about it or keep him away from young boys or the university's facilities. This is not only the worst scandal that has ever been associated with any college or university, but a crime and cover-up that should enter the annals of American wrong-doing in any form.

The whole business in unforgivable, but again what makes me the angriest is that people still don't seem to understand that in certain circles. If you happened to catch this week's episode of "This American Life" on NPR, which details life in and around Penn State both in the wake of the scandal and in prior years, when the school was voted the top party school in the country by the Princeton Review, I applaud you if you still have a radio. I was certainly tempted to rip mine out of the socket and toss it out the window as I listened to person after person at Penn State, whether they were faculty, students, or employees of the university, continually tell the audience that they just don't understand what it's like at Penn State. The blue and white Kool-Aid these folks are drinking is so potent that apparently it's our fault. We just can't comprehend how powerful and respected a figure Joe Paterno is, and we have to look at this whole situation in the entirety of its context. 

Trouble is, Nittany Lions fans, there is no context. This is the rape of young boys within the walls of a major university and men and women in places of power doing nothing about it.

Rape, they say, is the ultimate crime of power, where the perpetrator and victim are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to control. If that is true, and I agree it is, then what we have is the longest and most painful case of rape I can ever recall reading or hearing about. Not only were the victims molested and raped initially, but they were endlessly violated by people in places of power that used their influence and positions to cover-up and conceal the crimes committed. What happened at Penn State is rape in its literal form and rape in the figurative sense, as the victims were held down and silenced by those who knew about what happened and did nothing. Joe Paterno et al failed to bring justice to the young men whose lives were irrevocably damaged by what happened, plain and simple.

If you're tired of reading that word, "rape", I am in no way tired of typing it. It needs to be shouted from the mountaintops that surround Happy Valley whenever anyone tries to explain away or defend what happened there. The word needs to be spray painted on Joe Paterno's front door and tattooed on Jerry Sandusky's forehead. It needs to follow the men and women involved with this scandal wherever they go for the rest of their lives. As Christy Leigh Stewart says, "You keep the title of 'president' even if you served only one term. The same goes for rapists." There is no rehabilitation or redemption that can be earned for anyone with even the slightest bit to do with this ugly, gruesome story and you should do yourself a favor and let anyone who feels otherwise hear why it must be so. 

Children were molested and raped and people did nothing about it. That is all that will come to mind for this writer whenever Penn State plays a football game, makes the headline of a newspaper, or is mentioned in any context. I'm certainly not in the position that so many at Penn State were, the position of being able to do something about what happened, but I do have the relatively meaningless but personally important purview of never keeping my mouth shut on this matter, whenever it is brought up. There are times in life when you can't do much, but still must do everything you can, and for me that is shouting down anyone that supports Penn State in regards to this matter for the rest of my natural life. This post is the beginning, but not the end of my effort to let no one forget what happened to these young men. Please join me in doing the same, gentle readers.

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