Joe Paterno and Penn State’s Code of Omerta in the Sex Abuse Scandal
The coach tried to do an end-run, but the trustees still fired him for doing nothing stop alleged abuse.
Like everyone else, I cannot get the scandal of Pennsylvania State University out of my mind.
The story is unfolding at the speed of sound, not just the worst sports scandal in modern history but also one of the worst scandals in modern history:
A former Penn State assistant coach for 29 years and alleged sexual predator, Jerry Sandusky, apparently continued unchecked because of the failure of university officials and head football coach deity Joe Paterno to do anything that might have made a difference instead of what they collectively did achieve:
Buck-passing and unconscionable cowardice.
Paterno announced in a statement Wednesday that he would retire as head coach at the end of the football season after 46 years. He tried to sound like a humble martyr, but he was selfish and self-serving as usual. With the hubris and arrogance that has been the hallmark of his career over the past decade, the over-the-hill 84-year-old attempted to do an end-run around the Penn State board of trustees, who have been meeting to decide his fate. Paterno was hoping he could forever claim he decided to leave the football program of his own accord. The trustees called his bluff Wednesday night, firing Paterno and university president Graham Spanier.
Paterno is just a part of this whole sordid, shameful disgrace. He is easy to focus on because of his mythic stature, all false idol, as it turns out. But I find myself not caring about him anymore, particularly now that he has been let go.
What I am trying to fathom is how it ever became possible that so many men of power and intellect did nothing when it became obvious, because it was abundantly obvious on the basis of the findings of fact handed down earlier this week by a Pennsylvania investigative grand jury, that a former assistant coach familiar to all of them was apparently plucking out little boys as young as 10 to f--k up the ass or be on the receiving end of blowjobs.
(Note: we need to stop the daintiness and describe the alleged offenses for what they truly are in the vernacular to somehow try to capture the monstrousness. Not anal intercourse or oral sex, which sounds clinical, but butt-f--king and blowjobs and cock-grabbing and pants-groping and other assorted acts that the 67-year-old Sandusky allegedly inflicted on eight minor victims over a 15-year span, according to the 23-page grand-jury report, and resulted in 40 counts of serial sex abuse of minors.)
I think the answer to the question of inaction is simple. It wasn’t a matter of university officials and football staffers in Happy Valley not wanting to deal with it (which they didn’t), or not following up (which they didn’t), or having better things to do like attending Friday-night football pep rallies. There is no great conspiracy theory at work.
What happened, or more accurately did not happen, goes to the core of evil that major college sports programs in this country have become, equivalent to Mafia families in which the code of omertà rules and coaches and staff always close ranks around their own, even if it means letting someone who was first accused of inappropriate sexual conduct in 1998 continue to roam.
The horror of it all, both in terms of what Sandusky allegedly did and what Penn State officials did not, can be summed up by a single sound.
It is a “rhythmic, slapping” sound, according to page 6 of the grand-jury report. It is heard by a 28-year-old football graduate assistant named Mike McQueary in the locker room of the Lasch Football Building on the Penn State Campus at 9:30 on the Friday night of March 1, 2002.
McQueary is placing some new sneakers into his locker. At first he finds it odd that the lights and showers are on. Then he hears the sound coming from the showers. He looks inside and according to his grand-jury testimony, sees the cause of the sound: a naked child of roughly 10 years old with his hands up against the wall with a naked Sandusky butt-f--king him from behind. Sadistic, yes. Sick, yes. Beyond disturbing, yes. Deviant, yes. Immediate grounds for calling the police? Of course, yes. The upshot?
Nothing. Nada. Not a goddamn thing but the passing of the buck up the food chain of bureaucratic bullshit where too many people know that something awful has happened and try to bury it.
McQueary, who witnessed the incident, witnessed it, doesn’t call the police, although he is 28. He runs to his daddy. His daddy advises him to tell Paterno. He tells Paterno. The great JoePa, who regardless of his noncredible insistence in grand-jury testimony that he was never told the specific nature of the sexual act, does at the very least acknowledge that McQueary did relate to him that Sandusky was “fondling” a young boy.
Unless fondling of young boys by assistant football coaches at Penn State is commonplace and encouraged, that alone should be enough to make Paterno go to the police. Or being the father figure he supposedly is, tell McQueary that he has to go to the police and will accompany him, given that Paterno is the most popular and powerful man in Pennsylvania, with instant credibility.
But Paterno does nothing beyond fulfilling his minimal obligation. He passes the information he says he has on to athletic director Tim Curley and that’s it, the obviousness that Sandusky is doing something terrible apparently far less important than such crucial pursuits as watching game films of the last Ohio State game. And on up the food chain it goes—to senior vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz, all the way up to Spanier, the university president. But with each iteration the incident only seems to become more diluted and more muddled or, as the grand-jury report unequivocally indicates, some of those aware of what happened are lying their balls off to try to minimize what they really knew. Which would also explain the action that the university ultimately took against Sandusky:
He had his keys to the locker room taken away, which he had still maintained after he stopped coaching in 1999.
Which may also explain that in the wake of such draconian punishment, Sandusky subsequently gave blowjobs to a minor roughly 13 years old more than 20 times in 2007 and 2008, according to the grand-jury findings of fact.
Joe will mercifully be gone, along with President Spanier. Curley has gone and Schultz stepped down. So should McQueary, who is actually the most gutless in not telling police what he witnessed. The entire Penn State coaching staff, too much under the influence of Paterno, should go.
And so, frankly, should major college football and basketball as it exists now, rotten beyond repair, as has been pointed out a thousand times. Totally disconnected from the academic experience, they are insulated kingdoms with their own rules and reigns of terror because of the money they make, trading in illegal recruiting and illegal gifts and illegal favors, and now, thanks to Penn State, alleged sexual abuse of children by a former coach who must have assumed he would always be protected. Just like a Mafia soldier.
Except that the even the Mafia has higher moral standards.