With the release of the damning Freeh Report, it is clear that there was a complete breakdown in morality at the highest echelon of one of America’s top universities, where a massive coverup was engineered to unsuccessfully hide the fact one of the marquee names on the Penn State football coaching staff was sexually abusing young boys over the span of at least a decade.
If you are unfamiliar with the details of this case, you will find plenty of coverage all over the internet, Google will even know as soon as you type Sand what to suggest. I don’t have the time or stomach to catalogue all the horrors that so many better writers and journalists already have.
Before settling new roots in Thailand, I grew up in the good ol’ US of A. Born in Chicago (Big Ten country) I moved to Florida before middle school and became indoctrinated into SEC fandom, Florida Gators to be specific. I had the privilege of going to university at the University of Florida, where I learned firsthand how passionate people can be about their teams. Your Head Coach is a living god, until he leaves you for another school (or worse, can’t produce winning seasons). The Starting Quarterback deserves consideration for All-Conference/All-America honors, or at the very least, he gets all the hottest girls. Your rivals are considered inbred idiots, cursed with supporting an obviously unlovable football program…until your interests align and you find yourself saying “Oh, I’ve never really had a problem with Georgia/Alabama/FSU. At least they’re not Tennessee/FSU/Georgia. I really hate them.”
In many ways, the passions and prejudices are comparable to what I’ve seen from soccer* fans in the likes of England, Italy, and Turkey. Your Opponent is scum, while Your Team is full of unsung heroes, and anyone who really knew how special your team was would not be able to help but support Your Team.
What makes the situation at Penn State such compelling theater are the larger than life characters. The unimpeachable head coaching legend. The depraved predator. The dutiful son turned whistleblower turned hate figure. The Nittany Illuminati, whose provincial powers were likely enough to cover a murder or two. And the Unnamed Victims.
I have three young sons of my own, and while I can currently protect them from most of the world’s evils, eventually they will have to graduate from chattering nestlings to take flight into the sometimes bruising, oftentimes cruel universe, armed only with what survival skills they have learned from me and their mother (and maybe Bear Grylls).
From most accounts, the victims at Penn State didn’t have that luxury; they were vulnerable because they lacked father figures. Sandusky took advantage of this fact, using his charity to groom victims, and enabled by a university administration, in fear for its crown jewel cash cow of a football program, was unwilling to face the horrible truth of a monster in its midst.
The immediate reaction in the immediate aftermath was to “pray for the victims.” I know I’m in the minority, but my first thought when I saw a mass of football players on bended knee offering prayer was disgust. Not about the intention, which I have no doubt was largely noble, but of the utter futility of the gesture. What if any of the victims were not Christian? What if, after what one had endured, he had decided to be atheist? And how could some of these people profess to care about the welfare of young men they did not know, while they deified a man who probably had an idea of what was going on?
Perhaps it is part of the continued infantilizing of society, that so many people do not understand power. The lords of fiefdoms may not be present when the shit goes down in the dungeons, but if they genuinely don’t know, then they are not the one wielding true power, and do not stay on top for long.
Coach Paterno was widely acknowledged as the most powerful figure on campus for the better part of four decades. He is no longer around to admit it, but he had to know something was rotten in the State of Penn. The Freeh report only reinforces this suspicion.
Here is the part of the narrative where the audience seeks closure. Sandusky has already been tried and found guilty, and will spend the rest of his life in prison. The university president and athletic director have lost their jobs and face further charges. The head coach died of lung cancer. Now folks are calling on the NCAA to impose a death penalty on Penn State University’s football team.
Sorry to warp a popular analogy, but that would be like burning down the barn after the horses already left. As I understand it, canceling football would have a devastating economic effect rippling through the university and the community in which it is based. And who would benefit? Maybe only the self-righteous who would eventually move on to the next cause du jour. The victims should be compensated by the university no matter what (though that might be difficult if it goes bankrupt).
What Penn State should do is never let anyone forget what happened. Ever.
That means not letting this scandal fade into a footnote with the passage of time, as happens extraordinarily quickly in this age of information overload.
This means every current student and incoming freshman to Penn State, from Summer of 2012 to Fall of Armageddon, would be required to learn the facts of what happened, how nothing was done to prevent it from happening, how it was covered up, and the names of everyone who was involved in this abuse of power.
Every current and future Penn State employee would be required to know the facts of what happened, how nothing was done to prevent it from happening, how it was covered up, and the names of everyone who was involved in this abuse of power.
The football team would have to know all of this and focus its community service activities to helping victims of child abuse. They would be responsible for sharing this whatever schools they played against.
Also, it would be mandatory for all of them to learn to recognize signs of child abuse and how to report it safely and effectively.
Let State College, Pennsylvania be known as the worst city in America to be a sexual predator. Let them be an example to others. And let some good result from this.
Many will disagree with this, because they will feel it is unfair to associate so many innocent people with such terrible crimes. How could they ever live down a reputation as safe haven for a notorious pedophile?
You can’t. You shouldn’t. Because if you mean it when you say “Never Again,” then that implies “We Will Never Forget” and “We Will Do Everything To Make Sure Of That.”
No matter what punishment the NCAA decides to hand out, this is what I wish Penn State would do. But this is too optimistic.
(Apologies for the roughness of prose. I wrote this on my iPhone in the middle of the night from Hua Hin. Will clean it up when I get home and post relevant links.)