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Living a lie

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paterno sandusky

Joe Paterno issued a statement yesterday regarding the apparent fact that for 43 years Paterno’s PSU program harbored a serial child rapist (Jerry Sandusky joined Paterno’s staff in 1966 and was running football camps at PSU for ten-year-old boys as late as 2009). Here it is in full:

If true, the nature and amount of charges made are very shocking to me and all Penn Staters. While I did what I was supposed to with the one charge brought to my attention, like anyone else involved I can’t help but be deeply saddened these matters are alleged to have occurred.

Sue and I have devoted our lives to helping young people reach their potential. The fact that someone we thought we knew might have harmed young people to this extent is deeply troubling. If this is true we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families. They are in our prayers.

As my grand jury testimony stated, I was informed in 2002 by an assistant coach that he had witnessed an incident in the shower of our locker room facility. It was obvious that the witness was distraught over what he saw, but he at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the Grand Jury report. Regardless, it was clear that the witness saw something inappropriate involving Mr. Sandusky. As Coach Sandusky was retired from our coaching staff at that time, I referred the matter to university administrators.

I understand that people are upset and angry, but let’s be fair and let the legal process unfold. In the meantime I would ask all Penn Staters to continue to trust in what that name represents, continue to pursue their lives every day with high ideals and not let these events shake their beliefs nor who they are.

This is a craven bit of attorney-crafted circumlocution that shouldn’t fool anybody, but Paterno is in the peculiar position of being a deeply selfish, half-crazy old man who the national media continue treat with kid gloves.

There can be little doubt that Paterno has known since at least 1998 that Sandusky had a “problem” with “inappropriate behavior” toward children, i.e., he was a child molester. That’s when the campus police did a six-week investigation after a mother reported to them that her 11-year-old son had showered with Sandusky. From the grand jury report:

The mother of Victim 6 confronted Sandusky about showering with her son, the effect it had had on her son, whether Sandusky had sexual feelings when he hugged her naked son in the shower, and where Victim 6’s buttocks were when Sandusky hugged him in the shower. Sandusky said he had showered with other boys and Victim 6’s mother tried to make him promise never to shower with a boy again but he would not. She asked him if his “private parts” had touched Victim 6 when he bear-hugged him. Sandusky replied, “I don’t know . . . maybe.” At the conclusion of the second conversation, after Sandusky was told he could not see Victim 6 any more, Sandusky said, “I understand. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.”

This conversation, in which Sandusky in effect admits that there are other victims, and even refuses to say he’ll stop victimizing children, was surreptitiously observed by a PSU police detective, who was then ordered by the head of campus police to drop the matter. (The local district attorney, who for unknown reasons decided not to press charges, disappeared in 2005 and was declared legally dead in July).

To put it mildly, it’s extremely unlikely that in a little town like State College, PA, word of this investigation didn’t get back to Paterno. This supposition is bolstered by Sandusky’s otherwise strange “retirement” the following year. Sandusky was considered perhaps the top defensive coordinator in college football at the time, he was only 55, and he had long been considered Paterno’s heir apparent. The story Sandusky gave out was that he was retiring because Paterno told him he wouldn’t be succeeding him as head coach at PSU. At 72 Paterno was, in the spring of 1999, already the oldest coach in major college football, and his otherwise inexplicable decision to get rid of his right-hand man in this fashion suddenly makes perfect sense if one assumes Paterno decided it might be harmful to his already iconic legacy if it became known that his top assistant over all these years was a child molester, who had founded a charitable foundation to give himself easier access to his victims. (I’m told that, at Sandusky’s retirement banquet, the normally gregarious Paterno spoke for less than a minute at this tribute to a man who had worked at his side for 33 years).

On the other side, we have Scott Paterno, Joe’s son, claiming in the New York Times that Paterno didn’t know about the 1998 investigation. (The Times might have noted that in 1996 Scott Paterno opined that, “the President of the United States is a felon. In my opinion, President Clinton, at the very least, conspired to commit murder at least 56 times.”). Paterno himself has said nothing on the matter, and the statement he released yesterday is obviously phrased to allow him to eventually acknowledge that he did know about the 1998 investigation (“the nature and amount of charges are very shocking to me”).

In any event Paterno did acknowledge in his grand jury testimony that he’s known since at least 2002 that Sandusky was a child molester, although incredibly enough now he’s even trying to walk back that admission. He testified that Mike McQueary told him he had seen Sandusky “fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy” in the PSU football locker room showers (McQueary testified that he saw Sandusky anally raping the child). Now in his statement Paterno is trying to get people to believe that he was told that his 58-year-old lifelong friend and co-worker was doing something “inappropriate” to a ten-year-old boy in a shower, but that he had no idea it was anything all that bad: certainly not bad enough to cause Paterno — by far the most powerful person in the PSU AD and arguably the most powerful person on campus — to wonder why the only thing that happened to Sandusky was that he was told not to bring the kids he was raping into the locker room any more (Sandusky retained all his access privileges to the campus until yesterday, and indeed was running football camps for young boys on Joe Paterno’s hallowed football field until two years ago).

This disgusting and horrifying spectacle is among many other things a cautionary tale about what can happen to someone when you indulge his selfishness and egomania to the extent that PSU in particular and the national sports media in general have indulged Paterno’s over the past few years. For quite some time now, Paterno hasn’t even pretended to perform many of the tasks any other head coach at a major college football program is expected to do. He hasn’t gone on a recruiting visit in nearly five years, and his season he’s spent most games high up in the press box rather than on the sidelines, while not even being in electronic contact with his staff, who are making all the in-game decisions that a head coach normally makes. He is in terms of actually doing his job a pathetic figurehead, performing it in name only, so that he can continue to pile up whatever “records” the media credit him with.

But Paterno isn’t a figurehead in terms of holding onto his job, as opposed to actually performing it. The Sandusky grand jury investigation has been going on for more than two years. It provided the perfect opportunity for the powers that be at PSU to nudge Paterno out the door, but he wouldn’t go, even with the firestorm that’s now finally broken hanging over his head. He’s a crazy old man who isn’t going to quit until either someone fires him or he dies with his boots on. He’s been living a lie for years now, and in the end it’s led to him trying to weasel-word his way out of his complete failure to do what he could to make sure that Jerry Sandusky didn’t continue to rape little boys. Joe Paterno was once an admirable figure to the extent football coaches can be admired, but when faced with a genuine moral crisis nine years ago he failed utterly. He’s become a fraud and a disgrace, and should be treated as such.

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