I graduated from Penn State. I loved Penn State. I spent some of the most amazing years of my life there. And one of the things I loved most about Penn State was football.
On arriving to campus my freshman year, I was heartbroken to discover I’d not received my application for season tickets and had no tickets for any of the games. Big time college football was one of the reasons I chose this school! Horror! By sheer coincidence, one of my new dorm mates had suffered the same fate. We discovered that the ticket office released a number of student individual game tickets that you get but they were in high demand and went quickly. This was in 1987, fresh off the team’s national championship season.
So like all those nutters camping out for the latest iPhone, I camped out in a field overnight with a girl I’d know for all of two days just for the chance to get tickets to the football games. And I did. And I went to all the games. I tailgated. I sat in the snow through all 4 quarters of the Notre Dame game. I painted signs in the dorm basement with the hopes of getting on television. I cheered. I passed the Nittany Lion through the stands. It was glorious.
I revered coach Joe Paterno. He was a legend. The best “celebrity” sighting possible on campus. One year while out going door to door requesting donations for the Penn State Dance Marathon, my friends and I even braved ringing his doorbell. It was his wife Sue that answered. Unfortunately for us, her kids were also raising money for Thon so we left empty-handed.
And, now I am ashamed. Angry and ashamed and disgusted by the sexual abuse allegations and arrest of Jerry Sandusky. Despite the warnings of its graphic nature, I read the grand jury report. Not trusting the media to be unbiased, I wanted to read it for myself. And, let me tell you, the report is horrifying. It made my stomach turn. Unfortunately, I can’t un-read it.
Jerry Sandusky’s fate will clearly now play out in a court of law. What is also clear though from the grand jury report is that, in the 2002 incident, at least five people employed by Penn State had the opportunity to do the right thing by this 10-year-old boy and call the police. If I’d witnessed what this graduate assistant (Mike McQueary) alleges in the toilet at my place of employment, my first reaction would be to call the police, not my boss. Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, both notified of the incident, were REQUIRED BY LAW to notify the Pennsylvania authorities but instead decided that just telling Sandusky to stop would be sufficient. And if that judgement wasn’t bad enough, they then perjured themselves in front of a grand jury to cover it all up. The University President Graham Spanier was notified of the incident but also accepted that it was OK to handle the incident internally and failed to tell the authorities.
But most heartbreaking of all, upon receiving the report of the incident, is that Joe Paterno did nothing but pass the buck. For a man of supposedly such legendary character, he took the coward’s way out. He reported it up his “chain of command”, doing just enough to tick a box so that he could say he’d done something about it. Men of true character aren’t built like this. They make hard, unpopular decisions when necessary. They stand up for the safety of an innocent child even if it means trouble for their university and for their old friend and colleague. Did you not realize that McQueary likely came to you because you were a highly respected individual that would surely help him do the right thing? Joe, how could you have been so caught up in protecting the image, the legacy, and the brand of Penn State that you forgot what it takes to be a truly decent human? After all, at the end of the day, football is just a game. And, no amount of legacy that you may have built in that game can erase for me how you’ve now failed, more importantly, at humanity.
I was willing to accept that you were going to continue to cling on to your job for the forseeable future. This despite the fact that the football program continues to decline and become less and less competitive with the top tier teams. I accepted that because of who you were. But this changes everything. So do the right thing now Joe. Protect whatever legacy you have left, step aside and let the program rebuild.
Good will, like a good name, is got by many actions, and lost by one. Lord Jeffrey