Thoughts on Penn State

As most of you know, I’m a sports writer. Been one for most of the last decade, with a brief departure into news writing. So like I did with LeBron, here is my take on the current moment.

– People have asked me if this is the “worst” sports scandal of all time. I don’t know, but it’s up there. O.J. was pretty shocking and ushered in a new era of zero innocence when it came to all of celebrity and sport, but by that time Simpson was more known for acting and as a media figure. This involved current sports figures, facilities, a massive cover up, and the systematic and ignored abuse of the most cherished and vulnerable members of our society. I would give that the nod over Pete Rose, gambling Black Sox or anything else. Adding a universally revered figure like Joe Paterno adds another dimension. This is tragedy on another level.

– There was always a common theme to many of the college football scandals. Almost all of the ones that have broken in recent years (USC, Miami, Ohio State, SMU) happened in major media markets. This is important. My contention – for years – is that the real problems exist in the smaller college towns, especially those with entrenched hierarchy. Penn State fit this to a tee. Longtime coach, athletic director, President, and an  inbred coaching staff at all levels. All in a town that values football over everything else (if you want proof of that, go review the press conference the other night with reporters shouting insults at the board of trustees). Say this can’t happen in your town, the truth is it can and it might be happening. It might not be involved in something so horrific as child abuse, but there is probably plenty of dirt being buried. Penn State and State College, Pa. match the make-up of most towns with major football programs. This is something to think about and should scare Presidents, boards and faculty into reviewing exactly who is in charge in their burg.

– People ask why the decision making occurred like it did, and I can give you a bit of insight into that. I’ve worked in plenty of high school football factories (towns) and on the whole, outside of size and media attention, they aren’t much different than colleges. Paterno, Sandusky, Curley and the rest answered to who they were used to answering to – themselves. This is the hierarchy of State College. When graduate assistant Mike McQueary walked into the Penn State locker room and saw Jerry Sandusky raping a boy, he went to the highest authority he thought of – Paterno. Sandusky was the assistant coach for two national titles at Linebacker U – that was the only place to go in his mind, and after that it was finished. I’ve seen it too many times, where I’ve asked the school superintendent a question and he replies by saying he would have to ask the football coach first, without realizing what he’s saying. It’s the same mentality. It’s what happens when schools become football schools. It’s the only logical reason why Sandusky could virtually confess within the listening range of State College Police and never face charges. This finally reached the purview of the state police and that’s when things began to happen.

– The numbers for this may be staggering. The grand jury report lists victims going back to 1994, but Sandusky was active in State College since 1969, meaning there could be victims in their 50s. His charity began in the late 1970s. Clay Travis, a practicing attorney who also reports for the college football site said some victims are being represented by lawyers involved with suing the Catholic Church the last several years over child abuse. They think civil suits could range in the 100s of millions. Another figure has legal fees, settlements, loss of advertising and donors amounting to $1 billion for Penn State.

– Numbers and analyzing this situation may be fine, but it comes down to the human toll. As someone who knows someone who was sexually assaulted, I was filled with rage when I first heard the news. I can’t imagine why people sat on this for so long.

16 comments to Thoughts on Penn State

  • Kit

    Good points, JohnFN.

    “The grand jury report lists victims going back to 1994, but Sandusky was active in State College since 1969, meaning there could be victims in their 50s.”
    From what I’ve heard, pedophiles tend to rack up pretty big numbers.

    “some victims are being represented by lawyers involved with suing the Catholic Church the last several years over child abuse. They think civil suits could range in the 100s of millions. Another figure has legal fees, settlements, loss of advertising and donors amounting to $1 billion for Penn State.”
    Maybe next time a university or college will think twice about covering for a pedophile.

    Oh, here is the Grand Jury report.

    How far can you make it without feeling the need to take a shower?
    For me it was page 2.

  • This is just sad and disgusting no matter how you look at it.

  • Rufus


    I absolutely agree with your bullet points 1 and 2 (and the others). I’ve seen the same phenomenon with basketball at the High School level. A coach gets a successful program going and boys start getting scholarships and the administration, local press, parents… cede authority and power to that coach. Sometimes those coaches abuse that power.

    As I wrote yesterday, schools need to have a clearly defined mission statement; educating and developing children and young men and women. All else is secondary to that. If it doesn’t serve that first purpose, throw it out. Teachers have to be above coaches in the hierarchy. Student-athletes have to be students first.

    I’ve seen boosters who abused the system first hand. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. It’s just a game.

  • I think the telling point is your authority point… McQueary went to the highest authority figures… first his Dad who did what? Told him to call JoePa. This is only going to get uglier before it gets better.

    • Rufus

      This goes back to the point I was trying to make with AndrewPrice; there are situations in life that would pull most of us out of rational thought. It is odd how methodical and rational McQueary was, and that is hard for many of us to understand.

      If I see a house on fire and a kid screaming at a window I will likely do something stupid and possibly detrimental to me, and the kid’s chance for survival, that’s why firefighters station people to keep onlookers from getting involved. They are trained to remain rational in a situation that unmoors most of us.

      How could completely unexpectedly walking in on the active rape of a 10 year old not unmoor anyone? I’m not debating the “procedure” or if it was “proper,” I’m debating the humanity of those in the know. It’s not a legal question to me, it’s a question of humanity. Now we hear McQueary later participated with Sandusky at golf events! How compartmentalized is McQueary’s mind? Very, very strange.

      • Rufus, That was my first thought, “…it’s a question of humanity.” There should have been no time to think about “procedure” I,and I would expect most of we parents, would have attacked this piece of filth on the spot. It would have been instinctive. McQeary, if he had a normal, human capacity for empathy, would have acted. There is enough blame to go around but he could have ended it at that point.

      • You know there might be some defense for McQueary and Paterno if this had happened a month ago and the guy was still hanging around. But it didn’t it happened in 2002. When the guy is still around people never bothered to ask what ever happened with the investigation? The witness isn’t bothered by the fact that a child rapist is still hanging around and nothing has ever been done about it?

        As to John’s point about scandals occurring or exposed only in major markets. Baylor’s Basketball program had a SCANDAL that involved murder and it was uncovered in Waco, TX a city of 100,000. I can’t say what would have happened if it involved football, so your point probably still stands.

      • Kit


        The entire story is going to be a case study in the banality of evil and the passive response to evil (“good men do nothing”) featured in psychology and sociology textbooks that also ask “Why did so many Germans go along with the Holocaust?”

        • I’m not downplaying any of the events which resulted as a result of Jerry Sandusky’s deviance, nor the inaction of far too many Penn State admins and coaches, but please be careful with the Holocaust hyperbole, Kit.

    • Stephanie

      FYI: MCQuary is suspended…heard that this morning..good..but its not enough..he deserves an ass kicking.

  • JohnFN

    I didn’t intend that to be a defense of McQueary, just a look at what “default” mode was, which was to protect the university, which coincidentally meant protecting themselves. The more I hear about McQueary, the less I like him. He supposedly broke up a knife fight on campus one night, but did nothing to Sandusky the night he discovered him raping a 10-year-old. Paterno, McQueary, Curley – they know what Sandusky did in 2002 and prior, and they kept him nice and cozy on campus. The definition of enabling. There isn’t a thing Sandusky hasn’t done that isn’t text book child predator, down to the false pretenses, community involvement and insulating himself around pillars of power.

    Dan Wetzel of Yahoo reported that Sandusky was working out in the gym at Penn State two days before this story broke, which meant a week ago this past Thursday. He was also photographed numerous times at a Penn State event that took place in October. There are also reports he has been visiting current Penn State recruits.

    McQueary was placed on administrative leave and told his players he was essentially fired. Right now he isn’t even in State College due to threats against him.

  • JohnFN

    The Baylor/Waco thing is the only thing that compares in my mind, though it’s only two hours from Dallas isn’t it? I think that’s considered a major media market. State College is about six hours from Philly and Pittsburgh I think and doesn’t have the three big network affiliates, a major newspaper, etc.

    Glad to see them staying classy.

    • While you got the network affiliates correct (Altoona and Johnstown provide the “local” feeds, at least they did during my years there as well as when I was there a few years ago), Penn State’s only 2-2.5 hours from Pittsburgh, thanks mainly to improved and added lanes around Altoona and Holidaysburg. Not sure on Philly. It typically takes about 5-6 hours to get from Philly to Pittsburgh, though. Maybe thinking of that? 6 hours State College to Toledo, too. Used to be 7, but they finally relented and raised the speed limit to 65 on I-80 in PA sometime in the 90s. Wacky Quaker State. 😉

      Not knocking, just helping with former resident knowledge. Weren’t you a former Lehigh-area beat reporter, too? No wait, coming back to me — just interviewed for a job there, right … or was it Lockhaven?

    • You are correct Waco is about 2 hours from Dallas (actually about 90 min at 70 MPH)…but most days you could be a half a world away for all you could tell. But I think it was one of the local stations KWTX that helped break the story not one of the DFW ones.

    • Stay classy… out of tens of thousands of attendees and tailgaters… assholes are in every crowd.

      I never thought canceling the game was a viable option… why punish Nebraska and the networks with multi-million dollar losses? The Seniors on the team didn’t do anything. It’s a horrific tragedy, but life never stops… it always moves forward. They can walk forward and deal with the past simultaneously. That being said… the entire PSU coaching staff needs to be purged. The assistants probably knew more than JoePa.

      That Matko guy in John’s linked story has huge brass balls… great on him, his son sounds like a lucky kid.

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