Why Did the Lawyers’ Post-Sandusky Conviction Comments Shield Penn State From Shame?
Buzz Bissinger on the almighty football culture that enabled years of child sexual abuse and why the post-conviction comments about Sandusky missed the point.
It was all so surreal Friday night, what should have been a sober and solemn moment turned into an election-night rally at courthouse headquarters in Bellefonte, Pa. A girl mugged for the cameras. A crowd that had gathered on the courthouse steps in T-shirts and shorts cheered when the verdict was announced. There was the usual cry of “Can you hear me?” as the losers and the victors stepped to the microphone-soaked podium. There were the endless speeches of congratulation and self-congratulation with suited stragglers in the back hoping for a little television face time.
Everybody was having fun, too much fun, when there wasn’t a goddam thing fun or funny about what had just happened. This wasn’t a time to cheer. This wasn’t a time for endless speeches saying nothing. This was a time to mourn. This was a time to feel the same disgust we originally felt last November when the grand jury report detailing the sexual-abuse horrors of former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was first made public.
This was a time to express more outrage at Penn State than ever, given the new details emerging of an even more massive cover-up, all in the name of preserving a game called football with no academic purpose and no reason to exist on any college campus with the power that it does and the lifetime immunity it provides to too many within it.
If anybody was to speak, the only words spoken should have been the 45 guilty counts against Sandusky, ringing out across the pristine lawn of the courthouse in Bellefonte like the ringing of 45 church bells to the innocent and defenseless.
Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse Involuntary deviate sexual intercourseIndecent assaultUnlawful contact with minorsCorruption of minorsEndangering welfare of childrenIndecent assaultUnlawful contact with minorsCorruption of minorsEndangering welfare of childrenInvoluntary deviate sexual intercourseIndecent assaultUnlawful contact with minorsCorruption of minorsEndangering welfare of childrenUnlawful contact with minorsCorruption of minorsEndangering welfare of childrenUnlawful contact with minorsCorruption of minorsEndangering welfare of childrenCorruption of minorsEndangering welfare of childrenUnlawful contact with minorsCorruption of minorsEndangering welfare of childrenCriminal attempt to commit indecent assaultCorruption of minorsEndangering welfare of childrenInvoluntary deviate sexual intercourseIndecent assaultUnlawful contact with minorsCorruption of minorsEndangering welfare of childrenInvoluntary deviate sexual intercourseInvoluntary deviate sexual intercourseUnlawful contact with minorsCorruption of minorsEndangering welfare of childrenInvoluntary deviate sexual intercourseInvoluntary deviate sexual intercourseIndecent assaultUnlawful contact with minorsCorruption of minorsEndangering welfare of children
But there was no reading of the counts. Instead came the campaign circus in the form of the biggest clown of all, Sandusky attorney Joseph Amendola. He seemed almost giddy to be back in front of the cameras now that the gag order had been lifted, another shot of seltzer down his pants, forgetting to wear his size 22 sneakers, honking red nose. His greatest concern was to make sure the two bulbous microphones in front worked, bending them back and forth for maximum sound.
The tone of his voice did turn into one of conviction when he verbally genuflected before the trial judge, John Cleland, over and over and over, as though he was trying vainly to repair his tattered reputation, gain a reference. He knew the jury’s verdict was coming. He seemed not to particularly care and more intent on staying in front of the microphones as long as he possibly could until someone finally ushered him away.
Following Amendola was Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly. She began with a round of thank yous to those who had built the case against Sandusky. It was gracious, except for the fact that the person who deserved much of the credit, the lead trial prosecutor, Joe McGettigan, was treated as little more than a bystander. McGettigan put on a perfect case: short, direct, unmucked by legal bells and whistles. He is the one who should have spoken, not Kelly, particularly since she made no use of a public and moral opportunity to keep the klieg lights burning on Penn State in light of what was revealed during trial.
If there were any doubt that Penn State officials turned a blind eye to a man who had “pervert” written all over him, any doubt that Penn State officials allowed Sandusky to continue to find fresh victims as though he was shopping in a supermarket, it was erased by startling new allegations.
In testimony during trial, a witness said former Penn State vice president Gary Schultz, when told of Sandusky being caught in the shower with a 10-year-old in a Penn State facility, acknowledged that he had heard “noises” about Sandusky before. In a court filing during trial, prosecutors alleged that Schultz, who has been charged with perjury along with former athletic director Tim Curley, had kept a so-called “secret file” on reports of Sandusky’s past behavior. NBC reported that Schultz and former Penn State president Graham Spanier, in discussing the shower incident, which an eyewitness said had all the markings of anal rape, elected not to report it to social-service agencies. They wanted to be “humane” toward Sandusky, according to the report. As for the 10-year-old so terribly abused, his humanity was apparently not of equal importance or any importance at all.
Kelly should have referred to the culpability of Penn State. She should have used the moment, with millions watching, to say what happens when an institution, presumably dedicated to teaching students moral responsibility, doesn’t do anything except ignore and obfuscate when the signs are everywhere that a sexual predator is lurking with impunity, so brazen he often uses the Penn State football locker room as his torture chamber. Yes, it was Jerry Sandusky who committed the crimes. Yes, he acted alone. But any Penn State alum who hasn’t figured out that he was aided and abetted by their alma mater is only furthering the disgrace.
Kelly should have spoken with substance and anger and indignation Friday night. As a public servant, she should be helping to break Penn State of the football culture that ruled the school and made its own rules. In doing so, she would help break the football culture that rules too many schools.
But you could feel the shift Friday night, the itchy feet of the media moving on to the next sensation now that Jerry Sandusky is on his way out, all but forgotten come September, when the Nittany Lions play their home opener against Ohio University and 106,572 fans, after a minute of silence to the great god of JoePa, rise in a raucous roar as the boys take the field.
Are you ready for some football?
Always in America.