Editorial in the Knoxville News Sentinal, November 16, 2011.
Coaching legend Joe Paterno's "Grand Experiment" lies in ruins at Pennsylvania State University, demolished by a horribly blind hubris that put the reputation of a football program above the health and safety of children.The child sex allegations against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and the subsequent cover-up by university officials show the horrifying results of such disregard for human suffering.
Sandusky faces 40 counts stemming from allegations he raped, fondled and otherwise sexually exploited eight boys beginning in the 1990s. A grand jury presentment states he met the boys through a charity he founded, The Second Mile, which helps troubled youth. The former heir apparent to Paterno has denied the allegations, most recently Monday evening on NBC.
Sandusky's indictment was startling enough. The reaction of university officials was unbelievable and unconscionable.
The most graphic encounter detailed in the grand jury report came from a graduate assistant coach, later identified as former Penn State quarterback Mike McQueary. McQueary testified that in 2002 he witnessed Sandusky raping a boy who appeared to be about 10 years old in a shower at the Nittany Lions' football complex.
McQueary did not report the rape to police. Instead, he went to the most powerful man on campus, Paterno. Paterno didn't notify authorities, either. All he did was tell athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz, whose duties include overseeing the campus police.
They did nothing other than bar Sandusky from bringing boys to campus, a shameful abdication of responsibility.
Paterno, Curley, Schultz, Penn State president Graham Spanier and Second Mile CEO Jack Raykovitz have lost their jobs. Curley and Schultz face perjury charges in connection with their grand jury testimony. Civil lawsuits against some, if not all, are virtually guaranteed. The victims will continue to suffer.
Paterno's "Grand Experiment" was the belief that a university could have an elite football program, graduate most of the players and adhere to the rules. Outwardly, he succeeded. In his nearly 46 years as head coach, Penn State won two national titles, graduated nearly nine players in 10 and never once was investigated by the NCAA. Paterno, 84, became the most revered — and powerful — member of the Penn State family. Paterno was so powerful that when his two bosses, Curley and Spanier, asked him to step down in 2004, he dismissed them as though swatting flies.
Inwardly, though, Penn State was rotting. Nothing, not even child rape, could be allowed to tarnish its carefully crafted image.
Institutional integrity begins with personal integrity. Loyalty — to a school, a coach, an employer or an officeholder — can be a virtue, but misplaced loyalty, as the Penn State horrors show, is a destructive vice. Society depends on a higher quality — that of simple human decency.