It is the go-to hypothetical question we used to evoke empathy from those slow to understand: What if (fill-in-the-blank tragedy) had happened to your family member? But at Penn State this weekend, it will not be a hypothetical. Most of the 107,000 Nittany Lions fans who will crowd Beaver Stadium to watch Nebraska visit a PSU team stripped of legendary coach Joe Paterno will be cheering the team and mourning the coach …
Despite the fact that statistically speaking, it DID happen to their family member … to their dad, their cousin, their uncle, their brother.
The population of State College, home to Paterno lieutenant/alleged monster Jerry Sandusky, is 42,000. The population of surrounding Beaver County is 180,000. Do the math: Somewhere in that 42,000 and somewhere in that 180,000 are sexually victimized little boys, now grown up but still broken. Somewhere in that 42,000 and somewhere in that 180,000 are the little boys' parents, siblings, grandparents, and their own children.
The odds are that there exist, somewhere in Saturday's blue-clad crowd, relatives of Sandusky's victims who are PSU students, Nittany Lions football fans and season-ticket holders who up until this week, concerned themselves only with whether "we" could topple the Cornhuskers.
And now they are toppling automobiles in protest over the dismissal of Paterno.
Penn State's decade-long reaction to Sandusky's serial molestation of little boys is almost as outrageously inappropriate as Sandusky's sickening acts. An alleged child molester had the figurative keys to the city and the literal keys to the Penn State facilities and was informed, after his alleged rape of a 10-year-old boy in the football team locker-room showers was witnessed, to quit bringing kids onto the campus.
The staffer who witnessed the incident reported it to PSU officials. He remains employed by the state school. Paterno is only now saying that "in hindsight, I wish I would've done more," when all he did was relay the eyewitness account in-house, where it remained.
So Sandusky's "punishment" wasn't that he could no longer rape children. His punishment was that Paterno would no longer allow him to rape children on campus.
Does Paterno's silence earn him a dismissal? Damn right, and his efforts to preempt his firing by going rogue and announcing his retirement smacks of an attempt to retain not only his dignity, but also his power and maybe his pension. Does 46 years of supposed good (it's long been said that Penn State runs a "clean program," probably a relative term in the ethical landfill that is "amateur football") offset one horrific decision? No, because this isn't a pendulum swinging from a single point. The NCAA record number of wins, now forever stuck at 409, have nothing to do with the sexual abuse of children. (Sandusky's victim total is now at eight. That number, I promise you, will not stay stuck.)
One doesn't offset the other because football simply isn't that important.
Quite clearly, Paterno lost sight of that. There is a fortune to be made by letting the football tail wag the educational dog. JoePa is a god on that campus. That makes Jerry Sandusky the right hand of god.
Why didn't Paterno report his pal to police? I can envision friendship and trust and religion being invoked there. More than that, though, I can envision money and power and success being the driving concern. Joe is 84. Keep this a secret then and win a national championship. Keep this a secret for just a bit longer, and JoePa's got a clean getaway.
So they all looked the other direction, away from that shower, as Sandusky built himself an illicit playhouse. He hosted football camps for little boys. He created a foster home for little boys. He wrote a book with the unintentionally ironic title "Touched" to detail his faith-based interest in little boys.
Eventually, we will see that this isn't about football as much as it's about money and power and success. This is Enron and Madoff and the Catholic Church. Somebody is christened a god and he makes decisions "for the greater good" – which usually means, "MY greater good." And if you think Penn State is alone among NCAA powers in its capacity to house a Sandusky-level creep (capable of whatever type of crime), you must watch college football the way those kids in Happy Valley do … their underdeveloped brains drunk on The Cause.
About 1,000 students marched in protest as they take the position that Joe Paterno is somehow the victim here. You kids need to get back to class and fortify that education of yours.
It took 30 years for Penn State to boot Sandusky. It took four days for Penn State to boot Paterno. Maybe it'll take until Saturday – once the streets are cleared and the hangovers are faded and the cars are right-side up – for the 107,000 people in Beaver Stadium to understand that this isn't "that could've been your brother/son/dad in that shower."
This is, "that WAS your brother/son/dad in that shower."