Penn State University needs an overhaul.  Period.

An independent investigation into the child sex abuse scandal that rocked the campus and collegiate football powerhouse revealed a massive coverup by legendary coach Joe Paterno along with some of the most powerful administrative employees like the athletic director and university president.

When the news of a police investigation of alleged child molestation by former Penn St. coach Jerry Sandusky broke back in November of 2011, thousands of students, alumni, and others came forward, blindly supporting Sandusky, and even moreso, Paterno, claiming that he bore no responsibility for the several alleged incidences of child rape that often took place in his own locker room. 

Well people, its time to open your eyes and wake the hell up.  The proof is in the pudding, as emails proved Paterno knew of the allegations and used his power to keep the abuse an “in house” secret.  The athletic director and university president allowed this to happen, letting Paterno’s ego and air of invincibility take priority over innocent children. 

Is it fair impose a “death penalty” on the football team, punishing players and students that had absolutely nothing to do with the atrocities committed by Jerry Sandusky with the help of Paterno and other administration brass?

No, it’s not fair to the players, students or other staff who would lose their jobs with the suspension of an entire athletic program.  But what other possible punishment would be drastic enough to break through the gigantic egos of those who coach and run successful, cash-cow athletic programs? 

Success breeds power, and power leads to arrogance which often results in poor decisions meant to benefit the minority instead of the majority.   A year-long suspension for a coach, or scholarships taken away just isn’t enough to penetrate the psyche of people whose power is so monumental that they think the rules don’t apply to them.

Joe Paterno got off easy.  Perhaps a relatively swift fatal illness at an old age was a cleaner exit from this world than a prison stint as an elderly, high profile inmate behind bars for aiding a child molester. 

While Paterno’s death will ultimately benefit the university in terms of helping Penn St. shake this stigma sooner than if he were alive, traces of who we thought was a glorious man are still littered throughout the campus and the larger community. 

The statue must come down.  Buildings must be renamed. 

Unfortunately, the bad nearly always overpowers the good in terms of press coverage and lasting impressions.  While Paterno undoubtedly changed many lives for the better, his legacy will forever be tarnished.   Our memories of Paterno will not be a smiling man being carried off the field by adoring players, but instead, an old, desperate fellow begging the troops to rally behind him on the front lawn of his home.  A man in a strange state of semi-denial with no intention of ever telling the truth. 

The entire Paterno family has to disappear from the Penn St. campus.  Current and former players need to stop publicly defending JoePa and his family.  It’s time to submit to the truth, to reality. 

If it were up to me, I’d impose a death penalty on the entire university.  Shut down Penn St. for two years.  Drop all endorsements of athletic teams and academic departments.  Cut funding.  Freeze time for two years.  Force the brightest intellects and athletes to take their talents elsewhere, benefiting institutions that don’t allow a monster to terrorize children on its campus. 

Obviously, that would be beyond unfair to thousands of students, teachers, faculty, staff, etc.  It would be absolutely awful. 

But you know what else isn’t fair?  Being an 11-year-old child subjected to anal rape.  It isn’t fair that an old man and his cronies would rather perpetuate a legacy of lies than protect dozens of children from a lifetime of mental anguish resulting from physical rape. 

While the victim’s wounds will never fully heal, time will eventually restore dignity to Penn St. as an academic and athletic institution.  In 20 years, Penn St. will likely have earned back its stellar reputation with this disgraceful injustice serving as a little blip in the back of our brains. 

And that’s okay.  Do the crime, serve the time.  The university deserves a chance to once again be an impactfull member of our society.   But not until after it serves a sentence severe enough to send a message to the rest of the all-powerful college sports community. 

The majority of Americans are likely uncertain as to how to feel about the death former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.  Succumbing to lung cancer at the age of 85, the last few months were painful and ugly for Paterno and his family for so many reasons.  If one didn’t know him personally or have a connection to Penn State University, surely the demise of the legendary coach-turned-infamous bystander lends itself to a mixed bag of emotions.

On one hand, we know Paterno positively impacted thousands of lives on top of what he did for Penn State, serving as an ambassador, fundraiser, donor and face of the university.  One would think Paterno certainly did more good than bad in his 61-year tenure at Penn State, but I would bet that any victim of sexual abuse would disagree.   

Mike Bertha, whose Twitter profile reads, “I’m a Penn State grad from the ‘burbs and an assistant editor at Philadelphia magazine,” went to the Paterno statue on campus as news of Paterno’s quickly deteriorating health broke Saturday evening.  Bertha tweeted the following from the Paterno statue:

@MikeBertha: Student- he’s not just a football coach, he’s a grandfather figure. And if you’re not a part of the penn state family, you might not get that

I’m no Paterno apologist, but I can understand that statement at face value.  Many people worship celebrities, athletes, politicians, etc. while being unaware of the personal life and probable flaws beneath the facade of fame.  If we knew everything about our favorite celebrities and public figures, chances are we wouldn’t have favorite strangers anymore. Ignorance is bliss. 

While devastating for his family, friends and supporters, Paterno’s passing welcomes the end of an ugly chapter in the history of Penn State University and its football program.  Obviously, Paterno’s death won’t halt the pain forever felt by the victims who suffered at the hands of Jerry Sandusky.  The eventual prosecution of the perpetrator will help bring closure to the victims, but the university, alumni and State College community will require more than Sandusky behind bars to wipe the slate clean.  The loss of the man who possessed the power to stop the cycle and end the silence but didn’t, is certainly symbolic in a near-palpable way. 

Many were upset with the hiring of Bill O’Brien as the Nittany Lions head coach, saying “he’s not a Penn State guy,” and “how come nobody on the current staff even gets a chance to stay on board?”  After an unprecedented scandal of enormous proportion and even bigger perversions and heartache, cleaning house was the right thing to do for the university and its athletic program.  But with the beloved and embattled JoePa still residing right off campus in State College came the cameras, always ready to shine on him, the journalists on the front lawn with pens in hand, and attention consistently given to disgrace and downfall.  There would be no moving on with Paterno still in our sights and thoughts.

Surely, the first day Joe Paterno set foot on the Penn State campus was one of the best days in the history of the school.  Who would have thought we could say the same about the day Paterno died.

*Drawing above courtesy of Onward State, a Penn State online news organization
*Photo of candles and memorabilia at the base of the Joe Paterno statue on campus courtesy of Onward State twitter feed

   

- Former Penn State Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky is charged with 40 felony counts relating to alleged sexual abuse of eight young boys, resulting in the firing of several school administrators, including Head Coach Joe Paterno.  The New York Times reports ten other alleged victims have since come forward. 

-Two adult men accuse Syracuse Associate Head Basketball Coach Bernie Fine of sexual abuse spanning more than a decade, resulting in Fine being placed on administrative leave.

-Former U.S. Olympics gymnastics coach Don Peters is permanently banned from the sport and removed from the Hall of Fame after an investigation of sexual abuse involving two teenage girls.

And that was just in the last 10 days!

Whether or not such allegations are true or false, it’s been a rough week for the athletic coaching profession.  

The flood gates have officially opened as one person speaking out typically provokes bravery in victims who were once too afraid or ashamed to come forward with their stories.  A single accusation can also get the attention of fame-seekers who don’t care how many lives they ruin en route to those precious 15 minutes. 

Perhaps the scariest piece of this puzzle is the fact that coaches, the men and women who are supposed to teach and care for our children, might be child predators. 

I come from a family of teachers, some of whom have coached sports in public schools.  Most of my favorite teachers in high school were also the coaches of various athletic teams.  I have had nothing but wonderful experiences with the coaches I know.

Having said that, I stumbled upon some scary facts regarding coaches and sexual abuse. 

The Seattle Times published a story in December 2003 called “Coaches Who Prey.  The Abuse of Girls And The System That Allows It,” written by Christine Willmsen and Maureen O’Hagan.  The article covers several topics including different cases in Washington state of coaches being fired for sexual abuse, how many of these men were then hired by other schools, and how easy it is for offenders to become private coaches due to a lack of regulation. 

Here a some facts from the article:

- “Over the past decade, 159 coaches in Washington have been fired or reprimanded for sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to rape. Nearly all were male coaches victimizing girls. At least 98 of these coaches continued to coach or teach”

- “The number of offending coaches is much greater. When faced with complaints against coaches, school officials often failed to investigate them and sometimes ignored a law requiring them to report suspected abuse to police. Many times, they disregarded a state law requiring them to report misconduct to the state education office.”

- “Even after getting caught, many men were allowed to continue coaching because school administrators promised to keep their disciplinary records secret if the coaches simply left. Some districts paid tens of thousands of dollars to get coaches to leave. Other districts hired coaches they knew had records of sexual misconduct.”

- “In the growing field of private club teams, coaches can get a job or start a team with almost no regulation or oversight. Men who coach teams sanctioned by the Amateur Athletic Union have been convicted of such crimes as assault, indecent liberties with a child and drug possession.”

The article describes how the passage of Title IX in 1972 created a huge need for coaches in order to comply with the law and most of those hired to coach girls were men. 

According to the article, “As a profession, coaching has one of the highest rates of sexual-misconduct complaints, according to Bill Lennon, a Bellevue licensed sex-offender therapist and expert on sexual abuse by teachers.”

It makes sense for a sexual predator to use coaching as his or her gateway to children.  Coaches work with athletes for several hours at a time, have plenty of one-on-one interaction, travel together and go mainly unsupervised. 

"The Times analysis shows that Washington teachers who coach are three times more likely to be investigated by the state for sexual misconduct than noncoaching teachers. (Coaches who teach at private schools are not required to have a teaching certificate. Without public records, reporters could not include them in the analysis.)"

The article also cites a North Carolina study that found in schools, “the No. 1 reason for dismissal of a coach — accounting for 1 in every 5 firings — was not a team’s poor performance on the field, but the coach’s sexual relationship with a student.”

Okay, so after reading such nightmare statistics, what can people do to protect their children? 

Criminals exist in all walks of life and many will slip through the cracks.  It’s the sad, scary truth.  Not every child can be protected.  But hopefully the public outcry surrounding recent coaching sex scandals will scare the crap out of encourage school administrations to do their homework diligently before hiring any staff member. 

Hopefully with every survivor who recounts his or her story, millions of kids and parents alike will listen and learn how to recognize the telltale signs of a predator, preventing them from becoming future victims. 

Hopefully this public forum will release survivors from their shame and parents will feel more comfortable having difficult conversations with their children. 

From Pee-Wee to the Pros, there are probably a million athletic coaches in this country.  The vast, overwhelming majority of those men and women enjoy instilling values and teaching the games they love to kids.  It is sad that a few bad apples have managed to spoil the rest of the bunch of such an honorable profession.


To read the disturbing yet fascinating and important Seattle Times article in its entirety, click here:  http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/news/local/coaches/news/dayone.html

Saturday Night Live Tackles Penn State & Joe Paterno

As soon as I turned on Saturday Night Live, my first thought was, “hmm…I wonder if they’ll talk about Penn State.”  After all, the child rape scandal dominated the national news over the last few days, so there’s no avoiding it, right?  Right.  I should’ve known better than to think anything was off limits or too taboo for the SNL gang. 

The show opened with a skit about Wednesday’s republican presidential debate in which SNL’s writers barely had to lift a finger given the fact that the candidates practically wrote the script for them.  With that right off the bat, I figured Penn State would be next and I wondered how the cast could possibly get away with a skit about such a sensitive subject matter.

About 45 minutes into the show, just when I was beginning to think SNL was going to sweep the scandal under their comedic rug, the Weekend Update segment started. Right then I knew Seth Meyers would be the man given the task of trying to make such a heinous situation laughable. 

Believe it or not, I think SNL got it just right.  The angle they took was funny yet inoffensive.  Put it this way… even the Devil himself was disappointed in the evil happenings in Happy Valley.  Watch and enjoy.

 

It had to happen.  He had to go. 

Child rape. The mysterious disappearance of an investigating district attorney.  Insensitive front lawn pep rallies.  An absolute nightmare. 

Penn State had to clean house in order to rid the university of the stench left by Jerry Sandusky and those who kept allegations of his sexually abusive behavior a secret.

While this scandal goes far beyond it’s impact on the football team, naturally the focus shifted to one of college sports’ national treasures, Joe Paterno in his 46th season as the Nittany Lions head coach. 

As the layers of a seemingly substantial coverup began to unravel, many (including a grand jury) were asking who played what role in the former defensive coordinator’s alleged sexual abuse of several young boys. 

Paterno has admitted to playing a role.  While he said in a statement Wednesday morning that he planned to retire at the end of the season, that was not a decision for him to make, despite his power and influence. 

We’ve seen several prominent college head coaches lose their jobs in recent years, with these few coming to mind:

Jim Tressel: Resigned as Ohio State’s head football coach in May 2011 after emails proved that he attempted to cover up the fact that some of his players had received free tattoos, which is a violation of NCAA rules. 

Bruce Pearl: Fired from his post as head coach of the University of Tennessee’s men’s basketball program in March 2011 after the NCAA charged him with “unethical conduct” as a result of Pearl lying to  investigators about hosting high school juniors at a BBQ at his home. 

Rick Neuheisel: Fired from University of Washington in 2003 for participating in college basketball pools during March Madness.  As the school’s head football coach, any type of gambling is a violation of NCAA policy. 

Most people’s actions are governed by two things; written law and a society’s moral code.  Tressel, Pearl and Neuheisel were indeed guilty of breaking institutional rules, but didn’t exactly breach any major moral contract. 

On the other hand, we have Paterno who followed the rules, albeit at a bare minimum, in reporting alleged abuse to his cronies, yet allowed common sense, ethics and humanity to fall by the wayside.  For those who cheered Paterno, jeered detractors and rioted in the streets of State College, you must understand that being a figurehead comes with its benefits and drawbacks. 

Despite not actually coaching for the last several years, the 84-year-old Paterno brought in top recruits.  Paterno was a living legend who inspired his players in the locker room and a man who had positively represented the university and the state of Pennsylvania for several decades.

With such notoriety comes love and adoration, respect, signing autographs, accepting free meals and taking credit that you don’t always deserve.  But with the good, must come the bad.  Often times someone with such status takes the fall when things go wrong, is made an example of and absorbs more personal criticism than is perhaps warranted.   

His status as a figurehead, coupled with the substantial role he played in the Sandusky scandal provided the perfect storm in which to fire Paterno.  While reporting the alleged abuse is legally suitable, allowing the suspect (before completion of a law enforcement investigation) to continually bring young boys into your university’s athletic facilities for years is negligent and unjustifiable.

Despite the disgust, there is an explanation.  While a publicist or media relations professional surely wrote the statement released by Paterno on Wednesday morning (click here for the statement: http://usat.ly/rNNFFP ), its the words that came out of Paterno’s mouth Tuesday night which offered true insight.

In an impromptu pep rally of sorts on Paterno’s front lawn, he told reporters and supporters, “it’s hard for me to tell you how much this means to me, alright? You guys have lived for this place. I’ve lived for people like you guys and girls. I’m just so happy to see that you could feel so strongly about us and your school.  And as I said I don’t know whether you heard me or not, as you know with the kids who are victims, or whatever they wanna say, I think we all ought to say a prayer for them…. Tough life when people do certain things to you, but , anyway, you’ve [people cheering for Paterno outside his home]  been great.  You’ve been really great, alright.”

The dismissive and egocentric nature of Paterno’s comments might ultimately be what did him in.  When a person can’t show any genuine remorse in a situation like this, he is a liability and a public relations nightmare. 

In an article posted on the Beaver County Times website last April, seven months ago, Mark Madden detailed the grand jury investigation and apparent coverup at Penn State, writing in regards to Sandusky possibly getting off the hook, “don’t kid yourself. That could happen. Don’t underestimate the power of Paterno and Penn State in central Pennsylvania when it comes to politicians, the police and the media.”

Looks like Madden was right.  Where was the media when all of this was going on?  Why didn’t the story get picked up, either locally or nationally?  There are so many questions that we will hopefully get the answers to in the coming months. 

For now, power and narcissism are where many answers lie. 

After reports of sexual abuse, Sandusky was investigated in 1998, although then-Centre County district attorney Ray Gricar decided not to prosecute. Sandusky retired in 1999, and in 2005, Gricar, who must hold some answers, went missing and has since been legally declared dead.  You can read about the unsolved mystery here ( http://nyti.ms/s4yBGn ). 

Six of Sandusky’s alleged victims reported being abused in the eight years after then-graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary told Paterno what he witnessed in the locker room showers in 2002. 

Paterno had the knowledge and power to stop Sandusky, but did not do so.  Surely,   Paterno, Penn State president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president of finance and business Gary Schultz were not protecting Sandusky.  They were protecting 409 wins.  They were protecting 37 bowl appearances.  They were protecting the legacy of Joe Paterno. 

A large ego can be dangerous and deceiving.  A narcissist not only loves himself, but also feels a sense of invincibility.  From coverups to corruption, he assembles a crew of people who will do anything to protect him.  It seems as though Paterno and his cronies thought he was untouchable because he was Joe Paterno;  That any misgivings could be swept under a nice Nittany Lion rug and the legend of Joe Paterno would keep on living, blemish-free.  Sadly, they were right…until now.  All it took was a courier and a phone call to to remind Paterno that he too, is human.  


To read Mike Madden’s article from April 2011, click the link:  http://www.timesonline.com/columnists/sports/mark_madden/madden-sandusky-a-state-secret/article_863d3c82-5e6f-11e0-9ae5-001a4bcf6878.html#user-comment-area

The notion of several adults being made aware of the possible sexual abuse of a 10-year-old boy and not reporting the incident to police is mind boggling.  As a former mandated reporter myself, regardless of whether or not such allegations are true is secondary to the fact that individuals at Penn State University grossly failed this child despite the legal system in place designed to protect him and all children.  I’ll get to my own experiences as a mandated reporter shortly.   

The government’s webpage for the department of Child Welfare lists school administrators, teachers and school nurses as professionals who are mandated to report child abuse and neglect.  While other states like Connecticut specifically list coaches as mandated reporters in their statutes, Pennsylvania’s code states, “persons required to report include, but are not limited to.”

Regarding “reporting by other persons,” the Pennsylvania statute reads, “Any person who has reason to suspect that a child is abused or neglected may report.”

In other words, anyone employed by Penn State University (or anyone with human decency) is legally obligated to report suspected abuse of a minor. 

While it seems as though legendary head coach Joe Paterno fulfilled his legal obligation by reporting suspected child abuse to school administrators, he did not do enough to fulfill his moral and ethical responsibilities.  Nobody at Penn State did.

The allegations of child-sex abuse against long time Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky are disturbing enough on their own, but the exposure of a potential coverup by the athletic department makes the situation even more terrifying.

Gone from the administration are Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and vice president of finance and business Gary Schultz in the wake of perjury charges in the investigation of Sandusky, who himself was charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period.  Some of the alleged abuse took place on the Penn State campus. 

For a detailed history of alleged incidences and facts regarding this situation, I’ve provided a link at the end of this entry. 

Learning more about this alleged abuse and the role played by Penn State employees is hard to digest, causing a sickening feeling in one’s stomach.  I can’t begin to imagine the pain, disgust and trauma experienced by children who have endured such abuse.

In all, I spent 17 summers as a camper, counselor and supervisor at an overnight summer camp in California.  During staff training each year we learned about mandated reporting laws and the role we played in ensuring the safety and well-being of our campers.  Our camp director tried to explain to the staff, who were just kids themselves in their teens and early twenties, the magnitude of their job as counselors.  He would say, “imagine your most prized possession, the thing most important to you in your life.  Multiply that by infinity, and that is what each of your campers means to their parents.”

As a 19-year-old counselor of teenagers, I was faced with the first (of more than one) admission of sexual abuse by a camper.  My co-counselor and I were torn over how to proceed.  We both knew we were legally obligated to tell our supervisors who would then report to the camp social worker.  I knew what would follow would be difficult for our 14-year-old camper, but it was our obligation to report.  My then-co-counselor was in tears, afraid of what would happen to our camper who had a rocky home life, knowing that our camp would be obligated to disclose her claim of abuse to her parents with whom she did not have a great relationship. 

We debated the pros and cons and in the end, agreed to disagree.  I told her I was telling our boss, period.  Luckily for everyone involved, our male supervisors responded professionally and delicately, the process went well and her parents were supportive.  Eight years later, we are still in touch with our former camper and she is doing great. 

In recalling that story, I just realized that our situation differed from that at Penn State in that we were conflicted because of the effect that reporting would have on our camper, the victim, while at Penn State, it appears that the victim was the least of the administration’s worries.  Sure, we were just college kids working at a summer camp, contemplating the future of one teenage girl.  We didn’t have a multi-million-dollar institution to worry about.  But if we did, so what? I can assure you the outcome would’ve been no different. 

Every college coach tells parents of recruits that he or she is more than just a teacher of sport, but a teacher of life lessons and skills, and a protector of children.  Many coaches become parental figures to their athletes.  The idea that a coach could witness child abuse, report it to a superior coach who then reports to administration, only  for all parties to close the door close and look the other way is disheartening.  At best, this situation became a game of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  At worst, a multi-layered coverup of lies and negligence that most likely enabled further abuse. 

With Paterno being a sports icon in this country, it is natural for individuals and the media to shift their focus to him, asking what role the coach played and what consequences he should face.  The truth is that he is just the tip of the iceberg.

It appears as though Paterno played a small role in this by choice, but given his powerful platform, could’ve played an essential part in in stopping a predator and saving children from suffering life-altering atrocities. 

Between the athletic director, head coach, medical staff, academic counselors and even student tutors, a university athletic department is charged with caring for and supporting it’s athletes from top to bottom.  The athletic department is responsible for ensuring the safety of every person’s most prized possession; their children.  Even if the victims weren’t Penn State students, it is criminal and reprehensible to allow a suspected child abuser around the program’s athletes and on campus in general. 

Nothing can undo the damage done to the alleged victims, but justice can be served in other ways.  At minimum, resignation and jail time is appropriate for those who failed to comply with the law in this situation.  Should a court find anyone from Penn State guilty of any charges, the University and it’s athletic program must be punished.

Maybe the football program disappears for 13 years, which is the amount of time that has passed since 1998, when former university VP Schultz told a grand jury he first learned of an investigation regarding sexual abuse on the Penn State campus by Sandusky.  Perhaps the university should donate every penny earned by the football program in the last 13 years to various child abuse charities and child advocacy groups.  At this point, Joe Paterno should be the least of Penn State’s worries.

For full details of the Jerry Sandusky abuse case and Penn State, click here:  http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/7201952/penn-state-nittany-lions-tim-curley-takes-leave-gary-schultz-steps-amid-scandal