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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Columns

Penn State scandal destroys legacy


Just as it seemed that the nightmare was finally over for Penn State University given Jerry Sandusky’s sentencing and conviction on multiple counts of child abuse, Penn State found themselves back in the headlines yet again last week with the release of the Freeh report.

The Freeh report was the product of the Special Investigative Counsel assembled by Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan LLP, a legal services firm. The sole purpose of the report was to unearth all the facts surrounding the case against Sandusky. A monstrous 267-page document — counting two appendices that cite evidence and Penn State University’s written policies — the Freeh report provides damning evidence implicating not only beloved former Nittany Lions football coach Joe Paterno but also former Penn State University President Graham Spanier, the athletic program and other staff members at Penn State in a massive cover-up that could have prevented many instances of further sexual abuse from happening.

The consequences are immense. Perhaps the most immediately prominent consequence is the now-forever tainted image of Paterno himself. Paterno was depicted as somewhat of a martyr when the allegations regarding Sandusky first started coming out. It had been rumored that Penn State’s administration felt that Paterno had overstayed his welcome, so the timing was all too perfect.

In the context of an emotionally charged press conference, Paterno resigned from his position as head coach of the Nittany Lions, famously remarking that he wished he “had done more.”

Paterno’s iconic status as both a legendary football player, football coach and all-around good guy took a hit, but many insisted that Paterno wasn’t involved; that had Paterno seen anything, he was too classy of a guy to let such things go unreported. Penn State students, both past and present, even made a mass demonstration on campus on Paterno’s behalf, caught on camera proudly overturning vehicles and looking not unlike a riotous mob.

The damnable evidence in the Freeh report, however, reveals that there may have been more to Paterno’s “could have done more” statement than initially believed. The great “Joe Pa” himself, once adored by many, now faces the ultimate scrutiny, but his untimely death means he is unable to answer any of the questions raised by the report.

Two greater questions, however, loom larger than both Paterno and the consequences Penn State must face as a university.

The first is why no one saw fit to intervene. Paterno, Spanier and many within the Penn State athletics department are fathers. One has to wonder why no one was able to relate to the situation personally. As parents, the magnitude of the situation should have been easy to understand. Instead, everyone’s silence was their betrayal, and many young boys, now turned men, have become the victims, all in the name of football.

The second question speaks to the cover-up in general. Has society reached such a point where the innocent lives of young boys take a backseat to an institution’s desire to maintain a certain reputation and image? Former janitors at Penn State went on record in the Freeh report saying they did not report certain things they saw happening because they were afraid to get fired.

While Penn State has now become the example, it is undoubtedly not the only athletic program in which such monstrous things happen. Football should build character, not diminish it. It’s scary to imagine that taking a stand means nothing when it comes to maintaining a school’s prestigious image, maintaining employment or maintaining the “integrity” of an athletic program and scarier still that some people truly believe protecting a program should take precedence over protecting innocent children.

Bradford Howard is a creative writing senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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