I’ve kept quiet about the Penn State scandal. I’ve watched and read and really tried to get a bead on the situation before I committed my opinion to blog-eternity. My dad was a Penn State guy and so was my uncle and my husband took courses there as well. We weren’t showy or loud about our affiliation, but I guess we were, in effect, Penn State.
And the allegations against Sandusky were too dark for me. I’ve come to the that I’m only 5% human anymore but even this was too much even for me. I think to the SNL parody, which ironically replayed Saturday night before Paterno’s death, and figure if it’s taboo for the Devil, it’s off my comfort-o-meter was well.
That’s my new standard…if it’s too hot for the Devil, it’s too hot for me.
Child exploitation, child abuse, child rape is so heinous a crime that there should be a punishment so unique and horrible that mere mention of it would be enough to deter even the most enthusiastic of predators. It should make grown men grab themselves and genuflect praying never to have a fate so harsh rain down on them. It should make people cry.
I guess with a punishment like that, it’s imperative that we get the right perp.
As this scandal unwound into something uglier than we could have imagined, I kept quiet. Well my brain was working overtime, but I said nothing. This scandal isn’t about knee-jerk reactions or opinion or what vinyl sticker you’ve got on your car. This scandal is about humans and our ability to destroy each other.
It’s also about something very simple: inaction.
See, I do have respect for Joe Paterno and for Penn State and the academic and athletic programs they built. I was very proud of their recruiting, their dedication to graduating athletes and how they seemed immune to tarnish. I guess they were proud of that too. So much so that they didn’t act when they needed to. And that, I’m sorry to say, goes all the way to the top.
I think of an alternate universe, a Bizarro-World of sorts, where there’s a Penn State and there’s a JoPa and there’s an undergrad who comes to Joe and tells him what he’s seen. The alternate universe JoePa tells the undergrad that he’s going to go to his superiors and he’s going to report it. And he does. Yeah, I know, not much difference yet. But wait, it gets better.
Alter-Paterno reports it and he takes the keys off Alter-Sandusky and he gives it about a week. He checks the locker room and he’s on what we’d call high alert. I have no clue what this alternate universe would call it; just that here, that’s what we’d be calling it. Shut up, this is my story.
After a week, Alter-Paterno follows up. He sees that there are people willing to brush the situation under the rug. And frankly, he can see the logic of their thinking. Bringing to light the wretched doings would cause a scandal and possibly tarnish the shiny façade that is Happy Valley. People would be ruined and programs would suffer. Alter-Paterno understand this and he’s aware of what it could do to him and what he’s worked decades to build. But he doesn’t care. He calls authorities and blows the whistle (coaching metaphor). Sandusky’s fertile hunting grounds are swiftly shut down and he goes to jail.
Media people swarm the Valley and they talk about the horrors and how lives were ruined and how college officials and the board of trustees let this happen. They criticize and they condem and call for people’s heads. The president of the Penn State holds a press conference. In it, he tells the sad story and it’s all the same as it is here in our world…until he pauses, takes a deep breath and states: “Coach Paterno didn’t stop there. After he altered the AD, he followed up. He made sure that we all were held accountable and we all did our part to stop the horrific acts that were committed upon these innocent boys. Coach made a difference. He made the second call and we believe that we’ve stopped a predator before he could do more damage.”
Oh I’m sure that with speech writers, Alter-Spanier would have said it more eloquently that I did. But it would have had the same meaning. It would have stopped fifteen years ago. Sandusky would have been stopped. Sure Alter-Penn State would suffer a kink in its shiny façade, but it would have been able to hold its collective head up high know that it stopped the predation as near to its inception as possible. It would have done the right thing and reputations be damned.
Fast forward fifteen years in our Alter-Universe and Joe Paterno has died. Sure his team lost the Tostito’s bowl game and he still had lung cancer which ultimately he succumbed to. The reporters again swarmed Alter-Happy Valley, which wasn’t very happy, and they opened a sad, shameful chapter in Alter-Penn State history. But it had a different ending. They reported that Sandusky died in prison (you fill in the how) and that the university had set up numerous out-reach programs, headed by Alter-Joe Pa himself to help children of abuse. The football team suffered a few years after the scandal, but they rebuilt on Joes’ principles and morals and they were again back to their former glory. The country mourned the loss of a great man. Even Alter-Congress honored him, awarding him a Medal of Freedom posthumously. Sure, they talked about the sandal, but they also talked about how Alter-Paterno made it right.
Joe Paterno was a great man, here and in the alternative universe. I was sadden to see him fall and pass under a veil of controversy. And I hope to learn by his example that the hardest thing to do is also the one that is most right. God Bless Joe Paterno and God help us all.