The 267-page Freeh report released July 12 examines the heinous actions of Jerry Sandusky from May 1998 until his arrest in November 2011. I am left feeling sick to my stomach knowing a conspiracy of silence was given life by Penn State University President Graham Spanier, Football Coach Joe Paterno, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz.
For 14 years, these supposedly purist, powerful men at Penn State University chose to remain quiet. To look the other way. To conceal the hard facts. To shield the reputation of the school’s venerable football program all in the name of pigskin.
And they did it well.
Why my soapbox? I too am a sexual assault survivor. My nightmare occurred in an Atlanta hotel while on a business trip at age 27. It took me two decades to even begin the healing process. What happened to me and Sandusky’s victims are different only in setting. The impairment of these deep, harsh wounds is the same. I can assure you it will take a lifetime of healing for these young men, as it has me.
I am speaking for the young men who survived these attacks at the hands of Sandusky and countless other victims of rape and assault who will never come forward and whose voice will never be heard. Many will live in shame and will blame themselves for something that should have never happened to them.
Many will never recover because sexual assault is so underreported and is silenced culturally. Our society has this twisted. Rape is the crime. Talking about it isn’t.
The findings support my point of view fully as it sadly confirms staff members, from the ranks of janitors to coaches, witnessed Sandusky showering with young boys, fondling and pinning them against the wall, and performing sexual acts on them in the Penn State athletic facilities shower. Yet they chose to protect Sandusky, a serial pedophile, in order to keep their jobs and at all costs protect the university’s reputation, fearing it might “open Pandora’s Box” onto Penn State’s almighty football program.
This report revealed “a culture of reverence for this university’s football program that was ingrained at all levels of the campus community.” It was, as the report stated, like a quasi-religious cult. At many competitive football schools, we find fanatic-like rage reeking of this same cult-like behavior as the end zone scoreboard offers the glitter of VICTORY!
Collegiate pigskin is one of the most powerful forces in this country. Elite followers think nothing of making $10,000 donations for club seats on the 50-yard line. Such impressive investments have led Penn State’s football to be among the five most profitable programs, generating $50 million in the 2009/10 season. Sterling and ethical leadership, beginning with the University President’s office, must assure, midst such sporting drama and excitement, no one is “off sides.” To do so takes shepherding with honor, individuals who do not get caught up in the power of their governance. For with one clever sheep going astray and not gathered in, the disorder begins its destructive, rapid growth such as the Sandusky case.
In the final score, Joe Paterno was not a football hero, but a coward. He wanted glory, fame for his beloved Penn State, at all costs.
And the cost is the death of Penn State’s reputation.