A Sad Day in Happy Valley

“The minute you think you’ve got it made, disaster is just around the corner” – Joe Paterno

Ugly, ugly stories started to emerge this weekend from Happy Valley, where former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has been charged with sexually assaulting at least eight young teenage and pre-teen boys over a 15 year period (story here). Sandusky has been arrested and is likely in a whole heapin’ mess of trouble. (On that end, it’d probably be a reasonable step to pray for the man right now. If these accusations are true, then a horrific and embarrassing sin has been exposed. He needs redemption, and he may well be a threat to himself. And while you’re praying, there are also at least eight boys, now men, who have had their innocence forever torn away and their spirits damaged in untold ways.)

The story gets even more sideways though, and the focus has turned to the university itself and hall of fame coach Joe Paterno. Sandusky retired in 1999, but apparently was a frequent user of the schools facilities. As the story goes, Mike McQueary, who is now the wide receivers coach, witnessed Sandusky assaulting a child at the Penn State facilities back in 2002 when he was a graduate assistant. Apparently McQueary reported the incident to Paterno, who reported to school administrators. This was 2002. Nothing was reported to the police or child protective services. In fact, the report also apparently indicates that Sandusky admitted to inappropriate contact in the showers in 1998, and nothing went any further. Though, one has to suspect that this was part of his retirement in 1999.

I’m no expert on Pennsylvania law (or any other state’s law), but my reading of the story indicates that McQueary had a responsibility as an eye witness to contact the authorities, but Paterno did not as he was not an eye witness. Two school officials have also been arrested because they new and lied to the grand jury about the incident. Legal requirements aside, the sheriff in the case called out Joe Paterno with “I think you have the moral responsibility, Anyone — not whether you’re a football coach or a university president or the guy sweeping the building — I think you have a moral responsibility to call us.”

When the story broke my first reactions were that Joe Paterno may not coach next year at Penn State. He just broke the Division 1 all-time wins record of Eddie Robinson; Paterno now has 409. He’s still a fair way from John Gagliardi’s 471 wins for the all-division record, but he’s go the big record now. I figured, this would just make for a reasonable time to exit the stage. But as details are starting to emerge, and it is becoming increasingly likely that Paterno knew something was going on and didn’t report it to the police … he may not coach next week against Nebraska. Nobody at the school has indicated anything of the sort, but this is bad, really, really, really bad.

I recently chatted (via text) with a good friend who graduated from PSU. I said to him “it’s a bad day for PSU” … his response: “this makes Miami and Ohio State [who have recently had their own NCAA issues] look like jay walking.”

I hate it. I hate to see Sandusky involved in this wanton evil. I hate to see Paterno caught up in possibly (and I stress possibly) covering up a crime against minors, for whatever reason. I hate it. But the truth will out.

I’m not trying to intimate that “the people” have a responsibility to report any and every moral failing under the sun – they don’t. But when there is an oppressive crime going on, where somebody’s basic human rights are being scuttled, then there is a responsibility. No, there may not be a legal responsibility, and Paterno has no legal culpability here. But doing the right thing and doing the legally required thing aren’t the same.

McQueary, on the other hand … I’m guessing he’ll be charged at some point. We haven’t seen the end of this.

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