SPEECHLESS: The Walls Come Tumbling Down Around Penn State
I have been watching and enjoying college football for decades and have seen every aspect of the game both good and bad. When Doug Flutie launched his Hail Mary pass on November, 23 1984 to defeat the Miami Hurricanes in the waning seconds of the Orange Bowl, I was watching. When a true freshman named Herschel Walker steam rolled Bill Bates in front of 95,000 fans in Knoxville Tennessee in 1980, I was watching. When the Nebraska Cornhusker’s Tommy Frazier donned a superman cape in January of 1996 and single handedly pummeled the Florida Gators in the Fiesta Bowl, yours truly was posted up in his favorite chair taking in every exciting play.
On the other hand, I was also watching the day that Ohio State’s legendary coach Woody Hayes lost his cool and struck the Clemson Tiger’s Charlie Bauman in the face after Bauman intercepted an Art Schlichter pass with two minutes left on the clock in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Tragically, this illustrious coach and heroic icon of Buckeye lore was subsequently fired the morning after and never coached again. Looking back in retrospect upon that bizarre chain of events, I can remember being taken aback by the demise of Woody Hayes but I was certainly NOT speechless.
When Southern Methodist University received the “death Penalty” for its rampant NCAA rule violations throughout the 1980’s which included among other things, payments to players by school officials as well as coaches on an unprecedented scale, I was a stunned observer of the entire sullied affair. Even when the inevitable reprisal SMU was to endure culminated in the eventual collapse of the entire Southwest Conference, I was astonished but certainly NOT speechless.
Those that know me well would attest to the fact that it takes quite a lot to render me speechless. I guess that I inherited my gift (or curse) of gab from my mother who is the grand master of them all when it comes to chatter. That being said, I had no clue whatsoever as to what to say or believe when revelations of sexual child abuse at Penn State University surfaced some time ago. For what seemed like an eternity, I sat at my desk staring at my computer monitor with a look of bewilderment upon my face as report after sordid report unveiled its ugly head. “Wow”, I muttered to myself in a barely audible whisper. This is going to get ugly real fast……………! It did!
My initial reaction was one of complete skepticism. Surely this has got to be a mistake or some sort of sick joke I thought to myself. Penn State had always been an example of a university that strived to do things the right way or so it seemed at that time. For years I had admired and respected Penn State University football and its legendary head coach Joe Paterno. As far as I was concerned, Joe Paterno was a guy that always seemed to have his act together.
A Joe Paterno team to my knowledge had never been mired in any sort of controversy. There never seemed to be any “I” in the word “team” when it came to Penn State football. Just one quick glance at the drab and uninspiring Penn State uniforms gave immediate credence to the altruistic nature of the Penn State University football player who would rather wear quite possibly the ugliest uniform in collegiate football than bring attention upon himself by having his name emblazoned upon his back. “Now here is a college football program emphasizing the whole as opposed to the individual”, I admiringly professed to myself on many a Saturday afternoon. I simply could not and would not believe the horrible things that were being reported about Penn State until one day reality set in.
On June 25, 2012, long time Penn State affiliate Jerry Sandusky who was associated with the University for 36 years from 1965 through 1999 as a player and defensive coach was convicted of 45 counts of sexual crimes against teenaged boys as young as 10 years of age after only two days of jury deliberation. These sexual assaults which included rape and sodomy reportedly occurred for 15 years between 1994 and 2009 and were made manifest after a 3 year police investigation initiated by one of the boy’s parents in 2009.
Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant coach at Penn State at the time reportedly observed Sandusky sodomizing a 10 year old boy in the Penn State University locker room in 2002. His sworn testimony concerning this incident reveals that while he did not directly intervene at the time, he did inform Penn State head coach Joe Paterno about what he observed the following day. Paterno is reported to have subsequently informed PSU Athletic Director Tim Curley of what McQueary had told him but it was to no avail. There were never any consequences to the revelations brought forth to Paterno and Curley other than the confiscation of Sandusky’s locker room keys and the restriction of Sandusky from bringing any more children to the Penn State athletic facilities.
I can not remember in my “hundreds” of years of watching college football or any sport for that matter anything as disturbing as the disclosure of sexual abuse against children that was allowed to occur for years around the Penn State University Campus and facilities. Most appalling of all in my opinion are reports that many of the adults entrusted by the parents of our young people to protect and nurture them were fully aware of the transgressions that were going on but not a single person had the courage or the integrity to intervene either directly or indirectly through the proper authorities to protect these defenseless children. Apparently the reputation of the school and the success and profitability of the football program were most important and I find this to be completely inexcusable and deplorable.
How any self respecting adult can harm innocent children in such a lewd and immoral way boggles my mind. Have we regressed to such a point as human beings that our carnality has become the force that determines our actions when it comes to the ones that we should be protecting? In addition, the idea that anyone can have explicit knowledge of sexual predation against those that cannot defend themselves and sit idly by and allow them to be abused in the most heinous way is inexplicable to me. THIS my friend does leave me speechless.
Equally disconcerting to me is the fact that Joe Paterno, the legendary head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions saw no need to report these improprieties to the police once it was obvious that justice for these children had not been achieved. Would not any reasonable adult think it best that the police be brought in to investigate any matter this serious in nature? Do we as adults not have a moral obligation and duty to assure that our children are protected at all times from those that would do them harm? I think so!
How could a tragedy such as this occur? How could Sandusky even have had access to so many minor children in the first place? Where were these children’s parents when all of these crimes were taking place? I am sure these questions are parading through your minds as they have repeatedly paraded through mine every time I reflect upon this calamity.
As a parent of a teenage son, I am charged with a great responsibility. It is up to me to know where my child is at all times and with whom my child is associating. Apparently Sandusky had access to many young boys through a non-profit organization he pioneered called Second Mile which ironically was supposed to help these children NOT harm them. What a shame that an individual would prey upon the disadvantaged and innocent under the pretense of caring.
On January 22, 2012, Joe Paterno passed away at the age of 85. His sudden death after a two month battle with lung cancer completely shocked the world of sports given the speed of his ultimate demise and its close proximity to the tragic chain of events that led to his eventual dismissal as Penn State’s head football coach. It seems such a shame that after 61 years of association with Penn State University, it would all come to such a wistful end placing the legacy of excellence that Joe Paterno would most certainly have left upon his retirement in ruins due to sexual child abuse and criminal neglect perpetrated under his watch.
I truthfully am most empathetic towards the Paterno family as I am sure they continue to grieve the loss of their loved one and in no way strive to amplify their hurt and pain by sifting through the madness that has transpired. I would be completely remiss; however, in my journalistic duties if I neglected to present this sad scenario in its entirety and place the blame where it most certainly belongs. Next to Sandusky there is nobody more culpable for what occurred at Penn State University than Joe Paterno himself in my opinion.
I reiterate that I had always respected Joe Paterno. Not only had I respected him and his program for the accomplishments they had achieved on the field but he always seemed to be one of the good ones that projected an aura of integrity. His program was considered a model of how it should be done in collegiate athletics for many years and I am saddened to think that my opinion of him was mistaken. Nothing and I reiterate nothing should have been able to constrain Joe Paterno from seeing to it that these children were afforded the justice which they deserve. Nothing!
Today the much beleaguered and at times inept NCAA got it right for a change by handing down the stiffest penalties ever imposed on an institution of higher learning which includes a sanction of sixty million dollars that Penn State University is directed to apply towards external child sexual abuse prevention programs, the vacating of all wins from 1998 – 2011 including two conference championships and six bowl wins, the reduction of scholarships from 85 to 65 for four years, a four year ban from participating in any bowl games, immediate emancipation without reprisal for all scholarship athletes who wish to transfer and five years of probation. Although the “death penalty” which has only been applied once in NCAA history (SMU 1987) was considered, it was deemed to be inappropriate in this case with the rationale being that if imposed it would penalize many that had no involvement whatsoever in the scandal.
Perhaps there is something that we can all learn from this. Perhaps we can move forward, grow and realize that there are some things bigger and more important than our greed. Perhaps sanity will prevail once again and the term “student-athlete” will mean exactly what it says: STUDENT athlete. Perhaps the emotional scars that those unfortunate children assuredly have incurred will heal with time. Perhaps integrity will once again return to collegiate sports. Only time will tell.
Dean Nazaru McCray
Fesaad’s Sports Writer
You can write Dean at email@example.com
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