Honoring Paterno dishonors sexual abuse victims
Sports | Penn State and its football fans continue to overlook the coach’s connection to the Jerry Sandusky scandal
by J.C. Derrick
Posted on Wednesday, September 21, 2016, at 4:52 pm
In Daniel Chapter 9, the Prophet Daniel came to understand his people and Jerusalem were in the midst of a 70-year judgment. This realization caused the exiled Israelite to fall on his face in prayer and confession:
“We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. … To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you.”
Now, remember, it was not Daniel’s sin that had prompted God’s judgment and the exile, but he recognized himself as part of the larger community at fault.
I thought of this story after I passed Penn State University’s swanky Beaver Stadium during a reporting trip last week. On my way through State College, Pa., I saw copious support for the local school, including a huge yard sign that read, “I SUPPORT PENN STATE FOOTBALL.”
Based on the behavior of the fan base at large, it likely should have included a parenthetical reference: “(AT ANY COST).”
My jaunt through central Pennsylvania came only two days before Penn State honored former head football coach Joe Paterno with video tributes during the Nittany Lions’ game with Temple, marking the 50th anniversary of Paterno’s first game as coach.
To call Penn State’s exhibition both tone-deaf and irresponsible would be an understatement.
“This Saturday, in what is believed to be a first in the history of college football, a university will hold a game-day ceremony to honor the enabler of a child rapist,” Christine Brennan wrote last week in a biting USA Today column.
During the tributes, Temple fans at the game turned their backs in protest. “He turned his back. We’ll turn ours,” read one sign.
Paterno, who died in early 2012, was never formally charged for wrongdoing in connection with the dozens of boys his former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, sexually abused, but he was fired in 2011 for not doing more to stop it. Paterno knew of the allegations at least by 1998 and allegedly as early as 1976.
I’ve long been on record saying it is right for Paterno to be held accountable for what occurred under his nose for decades. Even if you disagree, it’s difficult not to agree Penn State has an image problem. And rather than work to build the new image it desperately needs, the school bear-hugged the old one.
I don’t get it. Does school leadership not realize that in the eyes of millions, Penn State is synonymous with widespread sexual abuse of children?
It remains unclear when Penn State plans to play video tributes for the courageous survivors who exposed the scandal—almost certainly preventing further abuse by Sandusky.
Obviously, Penn State fans weren’t the ones perpetrating crimes against Sandusky’s victims, but how about a little community remorse or shame? Forget about it. Their misplaced priorities were on full display: The crowd gave the three tribute videos standing ovations and fans placed balloons and flowers at the former site of Paterno’s statue (removed in 2012, six months after Paterno’s death) outside the stadium. Some even wore T-shirts declaring, “Paterno was railroaded” and “Sandusky is innocent.”
This is, sadly, far from isolated: A legion of Penn State loyalists troll the internet harassing those who dare speak out against Paterno. (I have little doubt I’ll be targeted again for this column.)
We have a long way to go before our culture stops tolerating sex crimes—and stops idolizing sports teams and players above all else. From Penn State to Brock Turner to the emerging USA Gymnastics scandal, a disturbing number of sex crimes—and the injustice that often goes along with them—involve sports.
Penn State’s “total disregard” for victims illustrates what a mistake the NCAA made when it declined to levy a multi-year death penalty against Penn State football in 2012. It should look for an opportunity to reinstate sanctions.
If the last five years have proved anything, it’s this: The football-worship culture that aided Sandusky’s crimes is still alive and well in State College, Pa.