There are some things that happen that just strike a chord so strong, so emotional that it brings you to tears. That’s exactly how I felt Saturday morning when I learned of Jerry Sandusky’s arrest and the 41 counts of sexual assault against him.
You see, I grew up on Penn State football. Everyone in my family went to Penn State. My brother and I are both alumni. Ever since I was a kid, Penn State football has been one of the greatest programs in the country. If on Sunday’s we all wore black and gold, you can best believe that on Saturday is was all about the blue and white. I have absolutely had Peachy Paterno ice cream at the creamery, I have studied at Patee Library which is now named Paterno Library and I attended countless Penn State football games and sang “I don’t know the goddamn words” (alums will understand that one). To me, Joe Paterno is not just the coach with the most wins in college football, he’s an icon, he IS Penn State. Not just football, but Penn State.
Not wanting to just read the media reports, I actually looked directly at the grand jury documents (I won’t link, you can google them as I did) and was deeply saddened by what I read. I am not writing to convict Sandusky. He’s due his day in court just like anyone else. But I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in a program, that if these allegations are true, did nothing to protect these young boys, but focused on protecting their program and the reputation of the school.
The flaw here is not that what they did was illegal necessarily. Because as one of the perjured Penn State official’s attorney’s pointed out, “The law ‘applies only to children under the care and supervision of the organization for which he works, and that’s Penn State, it’s not the Second Mile.” In other words, the attorney is saying that if the children had been Penn State students then they were legally bound to report the incidents to the police. Instead, because the children were connected to Sandusky’s charity, they didn’t have to report the alleged abuse. In my words, the officials valued the football program over the right thing to do, and ultimately, the lives of these boys.
Whether or not the events happened as the grand jury documents laid out is irrelevant. There was inappropriate behavior. There were suspicions. There was enough to ask some damn questions. We’re talking about kids. Â And someone who was revered in the community. Someone who used his position of power in that community to take advantage and scar, forever, young boys. And yet no one thought the right thing to do would be to talk to the police?
I’m ashamed. I’m hurt. I’m disappointed. I believed in something that is completely different that I imagined. Â And not just today, but a whole lifetime of beliefs and values. I can’t tell you how many times I have read about, heard about or even talked about things that happen at other Universities and said, “That would never happen at Penn State. JoePa doesn’t play.” And yet here we are. I can’t turn on the news, read a paper, or listen to the radio without hearing about this scandal.
And as a PR professional, I know that Penn State didn’t even follow the classic model for crisis management – be proactive, explain the problem and the solution and communicate that (Tylenol model). Had they done so and jumped out in front of this years ago rather than trying to sweep everything under the rug, this would have been a blip on the screen of a great program and Joe Paterno could have retired with his personal reputation in tact. Instead of learning about the issue, reporting to police and letting everything take place OFF CAMPUS and in a court of law, they have now created an issue where no one will stop until they know what Joe knows. This won’t be a blip on the screen. And unfortunately, this may be the very incident that determines how JoePa is remembered.
Instead of celebrating his 409 wins and the only team left undefeated in the Big 10. We’re wondering how anyone could choose football over a young child’s life.
Graham Spanier need not hold his breath waiting for my check this time. I refuse to support the legal fees of University employees who so egregiously did not do the right thing. There’s doing the legal minimum, and then there’s doing the right thing. Maybe there were no NCAA violations, but there was an absolute lapse in judgment by all members of the chain of command at the University. Including Joe Paterno.
(and yes, in case you wondered, I attended both Pitt and Penn State…but graduated from PSU. I claim both schools)