The Penn State Tragedy
…and how, just how, can the victims, PSU and all of us move on?
There’s no other way to put it at this point. Our society as a whole has been absolutely rocked by the horrifying Penn State scandal, seemingly unfolding with more disgusting details by the minute.
What’s so interesting is as abhorrent the situation is, it’s beyond compelling as well. I can’t turn the TV off, even though I know my stomach will keep turning as more information emerges. There have been hundreds of sports scandals, especially in college, that have seriously tarnished reputations, universities and sports programs for years. So why does this one feel so different?
Well, primarily, it’s about Jerry Sandusky. JERRY SANDUSKY, people. Not Penn State. Not the Nittany Lion football program. Not Joe Paterno. Not Mike McQueary. Not Tim Curley. Not the student riot mob.
This is about Jerry Sandusky and his crimes. And that’s what people are forgetting, only days after this atrocity is breaking. We are forgetting because that’s what the media does—targeting Joe Paterno as the devil here, in turn removing the spotlight from Sandusky who’s the real monster in this unfathomable horror story. Paterno deserved to be fired, of course. He failed, no matter what details come out about what he really knew. They all failed, and their negligence definitely enabled Sandusky to prey on who knows how many other boys.
But let’s be real. Sandusky needs to be the focus of all our conversations and so do his victims. Once we get that straight, then we can talk about this supposed cover-up, of which so many more layers will unfold in the coming weeks. The reason you feel that queasy knot in your gut is because of the nature of Jerry Sandusky’s very existence on this earth…and then it’s about the rest.
This scandal definitely hits home for me. My father attended Penn State and I was born, raised and currently live in Philadelphia, so I have many friends that graduated from PSU or will be soon. I’m sure this situation is being discussed constantly in other cities as well, but here in Philly it’s almost like the sports world has completely stopped. There is nothing else to discuss right now.
I love Penn State football. I love JoePa. I’m rocked. But so are you, whoever is reading this. Everyone is. We all share the same sentiment, maybe not in regards to how the Paterno situation was handled, but about the really important subject matter. We all greatly feel for these victims. We feel cheated as a society that this man could walk freely, using his own charity as a means to fulfill his twisted pleasures. We fear for children in general now. And those who have children must be terrified.
Would you send your kid to Penn State now? Would you think twice about sending your kid to an overnight sports camp now? Would you now leave your child with any adult that you don’t know well? And even then…one can never really know an individual…and that’s the scariest part. Any monster could be lurking in the guise of a normal, well-liked person, especially the ones with access to youths. Like coaches. That’s the most ironic part: coaches can instill some of the greatest values in a child’s life, but they can destroy it so easily as well.
So yes, this is way bigger than PSU and college football. This isn’t about cheating, tattoos, illegal gifts or any of that nonsense. This scandal is about these children, children in general, and then it’s about our society. Jerry Sandusky is not the first man to sexually abuse young boys, but the nature of his status at such a large university and celebrated football program has now brought this problem to the forefront of America. So now, how can we possibly move on?
I don’t know. It’s too early to comb through all of this to find some kind of resolution that could make us feel any better. It’s only six days into this thing, so it’s hard to think about healing and it’s rather impossible not to contemplate the total impact this situation will have.
Think of it this way: We were outraged at the Michael Vick dog-fighting saga. It was all over the media for weeks and weeks. We should have been outraged—it was terrible. But we moved on, whether you like it or not. Mike’s crimes were ultimately forgivable, especially when you see how much of a changed man he is these days. And brutalizing dogs is one of the worst crimes imaginable.
But this—wow. If there’s one thing that could be worse than the severe mistreatment of animals is when you bring children into the picture. And when you connect the molestation of children to Penn State…this suddenly reaches and frightens every family in the country. It just has to.
There’s no way to move on right now.
So, in the short-term, what do we do? Is there anything to do?
Well, earlier today, I was thinking about the victims and what they must be going through. And then, I tuned into a conversation on WIP, the main Philly sports talk radio station. The two hosts were talking about the Penn State-Nebraska game this Saturday and I got the immediate impression that many people feel that PSU should cancel this upcoming game and possibly the whole season.
I have to say, at first, I couldn’t help but agreeing. It seems like a football game is such an inconsequential and insignificant event compared to what else is going on. And sure, having the game, especially on ESPN, might garner the wrong kind of attention in that they might focus their broadcast on JoePa, the riots and the football program instead of Sandusky.
But then, I considered the victims, who are all males around their mid-twenties right now. They all probably lived in or near Happy Valley during their contact with Sandusky, thus they must’ve been bred for Penn State fandom before their innocence was taken away by this animal.
I’m sure they squirm every time PSU football or Sandusky is mentioned. I couldn’t imagine that they were ever able to watch a Penn State football game this past decade. Or any football game. Maybe they’ve completely stayed away from sports. That’s the thing: destroying a child like this has so many effects through the rest of his life that none of us could even begin to consider.
But maybe, just maybe, the victims can start to heal a little bit now. They know Sandusky is going down. Those who knew and had a legal responsibility to contact the police are going down. Joe’s gone. (McQueary needs to be gone, now.) So as the university and football program tries to cleanse itself, maybe the victims can feel something positive, or just feel something at all. Maybe they can now watch this game, and cheer for Penn State, with just a speck of the burden lifted off their shoulders. Maybe they can heal through sports. Maybe we all can.
But again, the focus needs to be on them during the games, aside from the action on the field. There needs to be a moment of silence. Sure, these victims aren’t dead, but their childhoods were essentially taken from them. And this is such a unique scandal with so many victims that the proper attention needs to paid to them during these games.
There is a huge basketball season coming up for Penn State as well after making it to the NCAA tourney last year, only losing to Temple by two points in the opening round. Again, this scandal transcends college football, so it definitely hovers above the basketball team and the entire PSU athletic community. And you better believe the bball team will be dealing with this every game, all season.
You’ve got to feel for all the Penn State athletes who now have to play in these games amidst horrible circumstances. Who knows what kind of greetings they will get on the road by unruly fans who will associate the players with the students’ riot last night? It has to be nearly impossible for them to give their full heart in these games, knowing the darkness that occurred in the backyard of their ‘Happy’ Valley.
Well, maybe they can heal through their sports, too. And maybe the victims can start to find a little peace now after all these years of knowing Sandusky was roaming the streets. People will be there to reach out to them, if they ever decide to come out of the shadows. And nobody will blame them if they don’t. But, we as a society, need to keep the focus on those victims and how to protect children in these situations.
As long as that conversation remains at the helm, only then can we and Penn State begin to use those athletics as a positive again. Because right now—as strange as it to say—I just can’t get excited for sports. Can any of us?