December 4, 2020

Say it ain’t so, Joe: How a hero became a villain

John Pohl is a junior journalism major and staff writer for The Journal

As children, we are taught right from wrong. As adults, we are taught to look out for our children and cherish them.  Apparently, some people at Penn State University forgot these life lessons.
Unless you live under a rock, you have heard of the alleged sexual abuse involving former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. You probably heard of the neglect on the part of Penn State’s president, their athletic director and others within the university. But the blame falls with the face of university, former head football coach Joe Paterno. I am sickened and heartbroken by this whole tragedy. Where were you, Joe Paterno, when these kids needed you? You have been at Penn State for more than 50 years. You were Penn State. You did nothing.
As a parent of three and grandfather of four, I can think of nothing more valuable than our children. I love my family and children more than anything and I would die to protect them. I don’t pretend to be special in this way — I understand most families cherish their loved ones. I am not sure what kind of person I would become if someone committed some of the acts that Sandusky allegedly committed in front me. Parent or not, wrong is wrong.
The indictment, dated Nov. 5, states in 2002 an assistant football coach, Mike McQueary, testified he saw a 10-year-old boy being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked 58-year-old Sandusky in the shower of a locker room at Penn State.
Although he waited until the next morning, McQueary did phone then head coach Joe Paterno and went to his house to tell him of the incident.
After Paterno was told of the crime, he did not call any authorities. He let it go. Pennsylvania law states university police, law enforcement agencies and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare should have been called. None were.
After the incident, Sandusky continued to have access to the university football facilities, including the locker rooms. He also had access to Second Mile Charity, a foster home initiated by Sandusky to “help children who need additional support and would benefit from positive reaction.” These kids needed help already. They received abuse instead.
Three years later, starting in 2005, the indictment states an 11-year-old-boy was sexually assaulted by Sandusky. It alleges Sandusky performed oral sex on the boy more than 20 times from 2005 to 2009. The young boy would hide from Sandusky at times because he was so uncomfortable. The boy became so frightened, he would not take Sandusky’s calls. Sandusky called this victim 61 times.
What if that boy was your son, relative, brother, sister, cousin or friend? I get angry and sad just thinking about it. This did not have to happen. This could have been stopped by a simple act of righteousness on the part of Paterno three years earlier.
The saddest part of this whole terrible ordeal is the kids who were molested and abused were vulnerable because of their social situations. Sandusky took advantage of his access to these young kids through the Second Mile.
The indictment names eight victims, but there are probably more who were abused. Last week, another victim came forward claiming Sandusky molested him.
This did not have to happen.  I repeat, where were you, Joe Paterno, when these kids needed you the most?
Paterno said only, “I should have done more.”
There are so many questions and no good answers.
Was Paterno afraid that this would tarnish his beloved Penn State? Would this cost him recruits, wins, bowl games or prestige?
Why did he not come forward?
Why is he not reaching out to help these kids or their families now?
Penn State students rolled a news truck over in protest to keep Paterno, and the chants, “Keep Joe” rang throughout campus for two days after the university board terminated Paterno’s contract. I wonder what the children who were abused or their families thought. No one was chanting for them. Nobody rioted to protect their dignity, their reputation.
Paterno won his 409th game at Penn State just two weeks ago. He became the all-time leader in Division I college football wins with the victory. Do you think the families of the abused care?
Paterno gave millions of dollars and his time to Penn State, but does that really matter? I can only think of the frightened 11-year-old hiding in his basement, scared and confused. The boy not fully matured, still trying to figure out life. He was just a boy.
How daunting of a task will it be to bring this boy and the others back to life? How many lives, families and friends were ruined? In my family, when just one person is hurting, it affects us all. I simply want to cry for all of them.
Who’s going to fix these children?
When the story broke, Paterno went to practice the next day as always. Was the Nebraska game coming up that week that important? As the controversy grew in the coming days, Paterno announced he would retire at the end of the season. Paterno had the audacity to think he could go out on his own terms with his well-crafted speech. What was he thinking?
Fortunately, the board at Penn State acted quickly and fired Paterno.
Paterno is just the latest in a long line of coaches who sacrificed their integrity for a football program. Ohio State University and University of Southern California are two other recent programs riddled by scandal with payoffs and recruiting violations. But they don’t compare to this.
Sandusky was charged (at the time of this writing) with 40 criminal counts of molesting eight young boys between 1994 and 2009. Sandusky is free on bail and has a Dec. 7 court hearing. He claims he is innocent.
Paterno, please do something positive now. Own up to your mistakes and help these kids. Devote your life to something better than winning football games. Apologize to the families and children. Do the right thing while you still can.

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