By the time Tuesday, July 12th rolled around, this country was sick of the Jerry Sandusky child rape case. Sick of the horror, pain and heartbreak. Sick of the cowards at Penn State. Sick of the worst sports saga ever. Certainly sick of Sandusky. We were tired of this unspeakable tragedy, a tragedy that challenged our strongest beliefs about sports, and people in power. Watching this surreal story unfold, it was hard to see the good in the world, hard to see light through the repulsion, repugnance and loathing of every individual at Penn State who allowed Sandusky's reign of terror to span any longer than it had to.
By the time Tuesday, July 12th rolled around, however, we were beginning to shake this unshakeable tragedy. Sandusky's trial was as damning as it had been conclusive, and 45 findings of guilty had helped bring closure to the drama. It was easy to despise Sandusky, easy to root for a maximum sentence of 442 years in prison, easy to cheer his fellow inmates in taunting and shunning him. He showed no remorse, no emotion, but luckily for us, the justice system did. Former Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curly, and Senior VP Gary Schultz were facing perjury charges for staring a grand jury in the face and lying to them about the extent of their knowledge of Sandusky's atrocities. Joe Paterno was dead, and we had just about as much closure as we were going to get. Then July 12th hit.
Tuesday, July 12th, the second Tuesday in July, is always a happy one in the sports world. Each year this Tuesday brings us the MLB All-Star Game, celebrating all that is right and well concerning America's pastime. This particular Tuesday, July 12th, however, would be one of the worst days in sports history.
By the time Tuesday, July 12th ended, Joe Paterno's legacy and life had been obliterated, the remains blown to a different stratosphere. Louis Freeh, a former head of the FBI delivered a 267-page report that swept away any thought that the Paterno we thought we knew ever existed at all.
Freeh's report was clear: everyone at Penn State - Curly, Schultz, University President Graham Spanier, and most of all Paterno, actively engaged in a cover-up of Sandusky's actions for the sake of protecting their football program and the bad publicity that would come if Sandusky's sins were uncovered.
These four knew of an investigation against Sandusky while he was still defensive coordinator in 1998. They swept it under the rug. Paterno told the grand jury he didn't know of any allegations against Sandusky until 2001. He lied. Mike McQueary, a man who perhaps still has his soul, came into Grandpa Joe's kitchen on a Sunday morning after church in 2001 and told him he thought he witnessed rape in the locker room showers. Paterno had heard this story before. So had Spainer, Schultz, and Curley. This time, they were prepared to go to child services on the resident pedophile. Paterno wasn't. And so he talked Curley out of it. Apparently, he wasn't comfortable with PSU going to the police. I wonder if victims 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 were comfortable with their tours of the showers at Penn State.
In short, Paterno empowered a child rapist for 14 years. And he knew what he was doing. He knew. He knew every detail of every attack. Then, nine days before he died, he told Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post that he didn't know. He sat there in his kitchen, wearing a wig, saying he couldn't quite rap his old-world mind around "rape and a man". He said that he didn't, he couldn't comprehend the extent of Sandusky's crimes. Yes he could. He did.
I felt sorry for JoePa, you know. As he passed away nine days later, I was heartbroken. I thought Paterno died of a broken heart. Many of us did. They say Paterno was upbeat in his last days…happy, actually. He didn't die of a broken heart. He died of lung cancer. I defended Paterno. I tried to believe the best. He was so likeable and had such a great record. People said such great things about him, about how he guided his players through life. I didn't want to believe the worst. So I didn't. I took shots at Penn State, demanding to know how they could fire an old 85-year legend at midnight with a phone call to his wife. I talked about Paterno's true legacy, the one where he's the sky of light with a small patch of dark. Here's a true legacy for you: accomplice to child rape.
He made me look like quite a fool. In fact, Joe Paterno outfoxed us all. In life, he always succeeded in his endeavors, right to the very end. We all thought Paterno was the victim. How stupid. Give Paterno an Oscar for his acting. Then have the eight victims whose rapes he could have stopped come to State College and tear down his statue. Invite the '98 and '01 rape victims as well. And their families. And friends. But Paterno won't have to answer for his sins, and that's the most sickening part of all. He won’t have to answer the mothers, or fathers, or molested children, or courts. We had him, in the thick of this saga, and we gave him a free pass. We ate up his fictional story, and we supported him throughout. If only we knew. If only we opened our eyes to the truth.
Paterno had to know everything that was going on in his program. He ruled Penn State. And we believed that even though his defensive coordinator, his right-hand man, was being investigated for rape while he was on Paterno's staff, and later at the football facilities every day, Paterno didn't know. Paterno was a smart, fully aware, healthy 70-year old when this hit. Of course he knew. I can't believe we ever thought otherwise.
If Joe Paterno had done the right thing and went to law authorities and prevented all that horror, he would have graduated from Saint to God. He would have been more beloved than ever. But his ego got in the way. Paterno wasn’t a terrible person. He did good things in his life. They don't matter. When the scandal hit, I ignored the dirty laundry coming out about Paterno. How he demanded the University provide special treatment for football players and not punish them in circumstances in which non-football players were made accountable. He was doing anything he could to win. Sure, there were some good deeds. They melt away in comparison to at least eight lives he threw away to keep his cushy little situation at Penn State. That's why Joe Paterno has gone from heaven to hell.
We created this. The fans and media that directed this misplaced worship of a football coach. We gave him the power that made Curley refrain from going to the police in 2001. Curley was afraid of JoePa, so were Spanier and Schultz. JoePa's power over Penn State certainly trumped theirs. So Curley did what Paterno wanted in this case, never mind that Curley was Paterno's boss. Curley asked JoePa to resign in '04. Paterno said no, and we applauded him for it. If it was another guy, in another position, he would just have been fired. At the very least, he couldn't have covered the tracks and provided sanctuary for a child molester.
Sandusky was a monster because of some genetic disorder. Paterno was a monster because we made him one. And JoePa gets off scot-free. We empowered a criminal who empowered a criminal. All for what? Give Penn State the death penalty. Give Freeh a medal of honor. He uncovered a truth that Paterno couldn't cover up. And let's all take a look in the mirror for our part in the scandal. Our dog in this tragic race, Paterno, is guilty. Shame on Joe Paterno. And shame on us for playing some part.