The unfortunate events at Penn State have unfolded so rapidly in the past week that can be hard to remember that the alleged incidents of abuse started over 15 years ago, and that for over half of that time, Jerry Sandusky was not on the coaching staff at Penn State University. It's also hard to remember that the charges of abuse are ONLY against Sandusky. I'm not saying that others didn't do wrong, far from it. But the person who needs to be brought to the harshest justice is the one who actually committed these atrocious acts against young boys. Sandusky is the one who is alleged to have sexually abused children. His alleged crimes cannot get lost in the outrage at several people's failure to act, the probable "code of silence" among officials at Penn State University, and the implosion of the school's football program.
I almost didn't write this blog post. Unlike politics, which can seem like a bad sitcom or a game show, there is nothing remotely amusing about child sexual abuse. I must add that I do not have children. The most visceral reactions I have seen have come from the parents of young children, and I can appreciate that. Even though I may be able analyze the situation from more of an arms' length perspective, I do not want to in any way minimize either the anger that parents have, or the harm that was done to the victims, so I am not going to talk at all about the culpability of those who chose not to act, or who didn't take their actions far enough. Their fate will be up to investigators, the judicial system, and God.
But I am very familiar with what it's like to go to a big-time football school and view the coach as a deity. I would ask that - with the exception of violent acts - please don't blame the students for their reaction to Joe Paterno's firing. I attended the University of Michigan while Bo Schembechler was head football coach, so I completely understand the reverence a school has for its most legendary figure. (Whether that reverence is proper is another subject entirely.) Had something like this happened under Bo's watch, I know that my first impulse - and that of many - would be to defend the coach. But it appears that most of the students in State College have, upon further reflection, realize that JoePa's firing was necessary, whether as punishment or to lessen the distraction that is going to dog the football team for the rest of the season. They've also realized that this is not about Joe Paterno, or whether his legacy is tarnished or ruined. It's about nine (or more) young boys, many grown now, who were exploited and traumatized by someone they admired, and who hopefully have received help and can lead productive happy lives.
It's also important to remember that although all of the Penn State community is affected by this scandal, all of Penn State is not guilty of wrongdoing. Penn State is still a world-class university, and their football players are innocent, hardworking, and in the running for the Big Ten championship. Jokes like "Ped State" and "State Pen" are unfair. Making fun of Penn State students and alumni is unfair. Hoping that their football team loses the rest of their games because of these incidents is also unfair. In fact, I will cheer for Penn State tomorrow, and I will hope that for a few hours, the players and fans can get their minds off of this mess and feel proud to be Nittany Lions.