It’s not my business to tell you how you should think about the heavy NCAA sanctions against Penn State, or the tearing down of the statue of college football’s winningest coach, Joe Paterno.
It is my business to tell how things are, no matter what the NCAA or university did, or might do. There are laws outside the courts’ jurisdiction at work here.
I’ve been off and on about this story for a long time, in part because of the hatred I share with most sports fans over the imperial nature of the NCAA, and the long standing respect of the venerable Joe Paterno. But the Sandusky culture runs much deeper than that and should be part of any fan’s consideration.
Last week I sat down with a former NCAA athlete, now a coach, who attended a university much like Penn State, where the university was the whole reason for the town being there.
His dislike for the NCAA is legion, and like many he thought the punishment levied on the university, the whole athletic program, and Paterno’s memory was unfair, because of the crimes of one man. I asked him if he had ever heard of the “The Sandusky.” What’s that? he asked. It’s a dessert on the menu of the restaurant where all the alums and elites meet after the game. I described it.
This is what it looked like.
My coach friend sat back, and said, “Omigod, the whole town knew.”
That’s what we call a game-changer.
What happened at Penn State was a perfect storm of sorts, a town built around a university, its public reputation for 45 years built around a single athletic program, that program built around a single man…and his staff.
The natural protection of a demigod member of that staff, from the town, university, and coach is not as uncommon as you may think. We’ve seen this in many one-company mill towns for generations, where bosses and their sons usually had the run of the place. Once ordinary citizens recognize that certain people (and things) are a class apart, and untouchable, they quickly realize they don’t want to be the ones who puts a blemish on the demigods by exposing whatever wrong they see happen.
The bravest person in this episode was the young assistant who reported Sandusky’s abuse of a young boy in the shower room, only to find his report met with silence… Coach Paterno’s included…at which time he officially-unofficially learned this rule the hard way. The demigods did not want their attention called to a problem in their house, thereby requiring them to confront a thing they had always suspected, but did not want to admit to themselves, or cause to be brought out into the open because of the damage it might bring to the university and the program. A silent contract existed for many years about Jerry Sandusky.
Again, this is not that uncommon once all the conditions are in place.
Back in the 90s, mothers in Belgium began complaining about abuse to their sons, their cries going unheeded by police, until a man was caught and convicted, who then exposed a ring inside the Belgian government as the chief purveyor of this trade. (Yes, a trade, just ask the Albanians who are always in the boy-snatching business, if the price is right. Girls too.)
The German people went through a similar period of circumspection in the early war years, lying to themselves about what was happening to the Jews, after years of watching them be carted off, doing nothing when they still could have raised their voices to stop it. How did they live with themselves? They lied…that it was not really happening. And that they really knew nothing.
Millions of young women (and erstwhile fathers) since Roe v Wade have been doing the same thing the past 40 years, lying to themselves. One of the main purposes of the Left and Planned Parenthood has been to “sillify” the murder of the unborn just to ease this guilt. Today, many of the most ardent pro-life adherents have had abortions, a statistic no one really wants to cite, for only through contrition can the nightmares go away.
Happy Valley and the University had willed themselves into this self-made purgatory long before Jerry Sandusky was arrested, because they knew but refused to know.
So what will happen to the university, the football programs, even Coach Paterno’s memory, will happen naturally, not as a result of any NCAA sanctions or court damages. The school took Paterno’s statue down for what many think were politically correct, cowardly reasons. But it would have come down anyway. Leftwing, maybe rightwing, or maybe even middle-wing citizens would have sneaked in there at the dead of night to pull it down, for every citizen, every PSU alum, as they passed that statue would no longer recall a moment of pride, but one of shame.
Paterno’s coaching achievements will remain unblemished, but in every record book there will be a huge invisible asterisk, just as sits over Mark McGwire’s home run records, as somehow tarnished.
By the fall term many students will be pulled from Penn State by their parents. There will be no report. Men now in their 40s who played for Coach Paterno, and are maybe coaching themselves, or maybe lawyers or corporate professionals, all with that team photo behind the desk, will quietly take it down and bury it in a drawer, in part from shame, but also because of their own worry about job security, all because of their association with The Program.
This is how it is, folk, and no threatening letter from lawyers can stop it. Life’s unfair, and a lot of innocent people will suffer all because a cadre of insiders let a thing go on so long it became a part of the inner culture of the town, and even a caricature with two scoops on a menu.
It will be a generation, when new freshmen will enroll at PSU who never knew that statue was ever there in the first place, and the people in Happy Valley who knew, but refused to know, have passed from memory, before things can return to normal.
This is what happens when an unnatural culture develops inside a protected laboratory.