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Penn State Shame

Who plays defense for the children?

Up until last Sunday, I didn’t really know anything about Penn State. And now all I know is its shame.

The first time I heard a reference to the school’s awful sex abuse scandal was when a friend posted something on her Facebook wall: “Not so happy in Happy Valley.” Not understanding the familiar reference to the university, I assumed she meant the power was out in town again.

Now, there’s no choice but to understand the sad irony that there is little happiness left in University Park, PA, the home of the university with the legions of football fans, an adored now-former longtime head coach and a black cloud of disgraceful revelations hanging overhead.

Prosecutors in the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office have charged Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, with the sexual assault of at least eight young boys. According to published timelines, the abuse stretches back at least to 1998, and perhaps further.

As accounts started to come to light over the years and intensely within the last few days, the horror became even more horrible: People knew that the abuse had taken place, and yet chose to either cover it up or not report it, likely to protect a football program and its revered legend. This included fellow coaches and university employees who allegedly witnessed instances of rape, university officials and perhaps others.

And so it was tacitly allowed to continue, and who knows how many more victims the scandal claimed as a result.

In other words: Children were sacrificed all in the name of a football program.

The closest I get to Penn State is that I was born in Pennsylvania and lived there for a year after I was born. I come to this story with the perspective of knowing nothing at all about the hallowed history of the Penn State football program or the 84 year old coach Joe Paterno, who I’ve now come to learn, helmed the team as an untouchable, sainted figure. I’m not a college football fan, although I know enough about sports psychology and pop culture to understand the allegiance of those who are conflicted about the ramifications of all that has happened.

So I can only look at this through the best lens I know how: Why was this horror allowed to go on for as long as it did, and why did no one stand up for the children?

Because, despite one man’s legendary leadership, despite a storied football program, despite a philosophy they all preached about living by a strong moral code… despite all this, the grossly immoral acts Sandusky has been charged with are compounded by the hypocritical inaction of others, men supposedly living by a moral code of higher standards themselves.

As the parent of children in the age range of the reported victims I am deeply saddened at another display of people in power who hurt children using the cover of charity and subterfuge. I am further disheartened that so few in the circles that ripple outward from the events’ epicenter seem torn about what is right.

Those that abetted Sandusky by their silence; those in leadership who placed football over moral right; the students, alumni and fans who have since protested subsequent disciplinary events—like Paterno’s firing—either by rioting on campus or through change.org petitions supporting Paterno; these are people whose actions I have a hard time understanding.

In this situation I can’t see the gray area. To me there is no moral quandary.

Unless we learn this, we can never be sure that the next time someone will stand up to defend the children.

RHS Parent November 12, 2011 at 06:28 PM
As the Patriot News has said, reporters have to be careful about printing hearsay v. facts. There seems to be soo much more to Sandusky's story. Was Dottie complicit? That historically has happened in marriages of a pedophile. Should she be investigated too and possibly charged? If she was aware, how could she have supported and condoned Jerry having six adoptions and four foster children? Not an excuse but delving just a little into Jerry Sandusky's childhood and it seems that his father may have been the same. Could Jerry have been a victim too? All this may be salacious for reporting at this time, but will be news eventually when the facts and history unfolds. There will be much focus on the Sandusky's and their story but right now it's speculative. The only saving grace is that this tragedy will bring more attention to this horror and give victims the ability to come forward without shame.
Linda November 13, 2011 at 04:56 AM
I am close with a grown man now, who was sexually abused at the age of 13. This bright, full of life, and smart child, with a future filled with bright possibilities, became someone else. Kept his secret until recently when his body physically and emotionally couldn't keep the secret anymore. He still will not talk about it or name the person who did this. I know first hand the YEARS of torture, mental anguish, and loss of potential this man has suffered all due to the sick, selfish, perverted acts of a horrible pedophile. I have no sympathy for Joe Paterno and Penn State. All I can think of is those poor, innocent kids who I know for sure are still suffering and will never feel 'whole'. Shame on all involved!
David Garlock November 13, 2011 at 01:55 PM
The sad truth that underlies this ugly scandal and alleged cover-up is closely related to the national disgrace of our educational system's widespread money-hungry venality and criminal abdication of leadership and responsibility -- an infection that crept into and corrupted our whole system many decades ago. Moral rectitude (on many levels, e.g., academic honesty, protocol that discourages inappropriate student-techer relationships, standards of civil behavior, etc,) is trumped by crude commercialization, obsession with "branding" educational institutions (as if they were "selling" some "useful" product, rather than cultivating human minds and souls), fanaticism surrounding so-called "sports" in lieu of cultivating physical development of individuals and promotion of health (one has little to do with the other), and the training of academics to compete in a murderous tenure-driven triathlon -- all of these festering pustules that disfigure our educational system, from grade school through grad school, need to be eradiated, or at least reexamined. Billions spent (and misspent in many cases) on enterprises that have little to do with the moral and intellectual development of our nation's most valuable resource - our maleable and vulnerble children and young adults. When in bloody hell are we going to re-assume our adult responsibilities? David Garlock, Ph.D. Wilton resident (and discouraged teacher)
Elyse November 13, 2011 at 02:54 PM
The statement below about sums up the Penn State situation, and it's a sad statement on society that this action (ignoring what is morally wrong) continues in sports, religion, your workplace,... "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." – Edmund Burke
Eustace Tilley November 13, 2011 at 05:04 PM
Well said David... I don't know the root cause(s) nor do I know the answers but unfortunately our society's definition of success is cash not character. Are we teaching it at home, reinforcing it at Church or at the schools, in the office, in Government and on the playing fields...

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