As has everyone in the country, for the past year I’ve been riveted to the train wreck that Penn State has become.
How could a child molester of such..um.. shall we say voracious, appetite have assaulted all these children without anybody knowing what was going on? The only answer, of course, is that they knew darn good and well what was going on but nobody wanted to kick over the pile of wood and let all the snakes loose.
While I can certainly understand wanting to protect the integrity of the school and trying to keep things quiet, I cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, understand the university’s attitude of ignorance is bliss. As a result of their ambivalence, for years a predator preyed on the youth of the area. Even when caught in the act, somehow there was an intervention that kept the event from being reported. And when it was reported, what happened? Not a whole lot, at first. It took report after report after report. So, guys, exactly when did you determine there was a pattern here?
Now, let me tell you, this is a conversation (read argument here) that my husband and I have frequently. It usually revolves around who knew what and when. And was it really Joe Paterno’s place to follow up on the accusation he himself had already leveled against Jerry Sandusky when he saw that nobody else was doing anything? Yes. It was not only his job, it was his moral responsibility.
I’m not saying that Paterno wasn’t a great coach or even, for many years, a real example to his players or even a basically good man. He was. However, this one failing threatens to override all the good the man ever did in his lifetime. Nobody’s going to remember he won two national championships, was inducted into the Hall of Fame or that, ironically, he was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year in 1986 when the simple fact is if he had hammered at the authorities with what he knew to be true, he might have spared some innocent from being a victim. My husband challenges that he opened himself up for prosecution if someone wanted to sue him if the charges didn’t stick - or he could have lost his job. So? In a litigious society it’s true, every time you stick your neck out, it’s liable to get chopped off, but if taking that risk saves one child - only one- from the horror that as inflicted on these young men, then it’s well worth the risk. Isn’t it our duty as a society to protect the innocent? Not to throw them to the wolf in pigskin clothing that is worshipped on too many levels.
This university turned ignoring the situation into an event of Olympic proportions. And still, it all bubbled over, with the destructive force of Kilimanjaro erupting. Careers were savaged, jobs were lost, heads were hung and, thank heavens, a criminal was finally caught and held responsible for his crimes. Yes, there’s been some collateral damage, but overall, I’d say that justice is close to being served.
Ok - so now, after Sandusky has been convicted and sentenced and Paterno, rest in peace, has passed on, and the university officials have even accepted the astronomical $60 million fine, the ban on postseason play and, probably the most painful thing for this school, the loss of the victories the team had amassed while Sandusky was assistant coach, now the victims have to face the indignity of the governor of their own state filing a lawsuit to reverse those sanctions. Wow! - this is the same guy who told the school they really should step up and be men and accept their punishment.
You know the real problem here - we forgot who our heroes are supposed to be. I had no problem with my son idolizing the on-field performance of hard working players. My problem was when he started thinking their off field antics were pretty good too. And there were too many of those because we’ve become a nation of idol worshipers - we’ve forgotten that we’re supposed to be the example for our kids for doing good and evil. I’m never going to carry a football, hit a home run or perfect a slapshot, but I have taught my children the difference between right and wrong and that no one owes them anything because they’re so smart or athletic or pretty.
What is the governor of the state of Pennsylvania telling those victims? That they are not as important as a scoreboard, a pigskin or a winning season.
Governor Tom Corbett’s reasoning is that the NCAA’s decision to impose these sanctions on a school that allowed a child molester to run free would harm the football program, the citizens and general economy of the state.
Too darn bad. Corbett’s priorities - and anyone else who thinks that Penn got a bad deal- are skewed. An ounce of common sense, an ounce of compassion, would tell them that the real victims aren’t the citizens, the board of trustees, the alumni or the governor. The victims are the kids. All of them. The ones who were molested and the ones who worked hard - probably harder than at any other time in their lives- to do a good job and bring home the victory that was demanded of them.
When a program becomes more important than the participants, something has to be done. Governor Corbett, drop the suit and prove to a nation of children that their safety is more important than the next championship.
Cooper, a Peachtree City resident for 24 years, has been a book reviewer, writer and editor for several national magazines since her original stint at Fayette Newspapers, Inc.