Gravity of scandal will weigh heavily
The narrow, winding road uphill to Jerry Sandusky’s house is a dead end. It was quiet Thursday evening, with just one guy raking leaves. And this street sign:
Sandusky must drive past it every day.
Meanwhile, a couple of miles away, former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno seemed in prison in his house all day. People came to the door — his sons, his grandkids, his longtime coaches, apparently some friends, and maybe even fans — and visited and brought flowers.
Paterno would never come out of his house, a 1960s-looking ranch with a wood-and-stone front. It seemed from a different time.
This was the day after the big bomb dropped at Penn State, when Paterno was fired. He had done so little after allegations of Sandusky’s sexual abuse of a young boy were brought to him. On Wednesday, students turned over a truck and nearly rioted in support of Paterno.
By Thursday, Happy Valley was behind bars.
Everyone here is trapped, and they always will be. Penn State is going to be known for this scandal forever.
Mention Kent State, and people forever will think about the shooting in the 1960s. That school put buildings on top of the site, tried to hide it, forget about it.
But it can’t get out from under it.
And from now on, Paterno and Penn State will be under this.
It isn’t just them. Assistant coach Mike McQueary is trapped, too. He had the misfortune of reportedly witnessing one of the crimes that Sandusky is alleged to have committed. Then, McQueary ran out, called his father and waited until the next day to tell Paterno what he had seen.
He didn’t even help the boy at the time.
Early in the day Thursday, it appeared that McQueary would be forced to coach Saturday’s game against Nebraska from the press box. It was safer for him there than on the field; he had been receiving threats, according to Penn State.
By the end of the night, the school announced that there had been too many threats against McQueary. He will not be at the game.
Paterno knew of an allegation about Sandusky with a boy in the shower in 1998. When another allegation came in 2002, his conscience should have insisted that he do something. He told his boss, the athletic director. As you know by now: No one at Penn State called the police.
Sandusky went on working at his charity for disadvantaged and vulnerable kids.
Children who have been molested or raped face a stigma. It is so hard for them to come forward, especially if their attacker is a person in power. Sexual assault is a crime based on fear and silence and intimidation.
So when students rallied in support of Paterno — offering such a public show of affection for him after what he did, or didn’t do — it didn’t do any good for these alleged victims.
I walked around campus Thursday, in the calm. At the football stadium, people kept stopping to have their pictures taken next to the Paterno statue. One student, a freshman, told me she is worried about getting a job with Penn State on her résumé.
After letting their emotions out Wednesday, students were faced with a cold reality for the first time since this scandal came up: Now they have to live with it.
One student said that no one on campus knew what to talk about. In classes, they talked about Paterno as therapy.
All officials with microphones decided that this was the day to speak, to make sure that they were on the record as being opposed to child rape.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said, “We must keep in mind when it comes to the safety of children, there can be no margin for error.’’
NCAA president Mark Emmert told ESPN: “No one person, no one program is above the responsibilities (to) society.’’
Two US senators rescinded their support of Paterno for a presidential award. Cars.com withdrew its sponsorship of upcoming games.
They all didn’t want to be trapped, too.
One good thing came of the day: The pregame pep rally scheduled for Friday night was replaced with a candlelight vigil for the alleged victims.
In a much lesser way, these students were victims, too.
See, a big part of student pride at Penn State is wrapped up in having a winning football team doing things right behind a legendary coach. This scandal tears at the students’ identity, which is probably the real reason they pseudo-rioted Wednesday night.
Tom Bradley took over as the new football coach Thursday and had his first news conference, telling people he took the job with mixed emotions. He dodged questions, looked confused. As far as this job goes, he is likely a dead man walking. He and all the other Penn State assistants are surely going to be fired at the end of the year.
All those years of building a brand, building a name. No one will remember the Paterno Library, and don’t be surprised if they change the name. They might take Paterno’s name off the Big Ten trophy, too.
This is the new and lasting reality for Penn State. For decades, football Saturday was everything that Happy Valley could hope for. And you could argue that a game always makes things better, and that this week’s game might give fans a chance for normalcy.
I don’t think so. More likely, it will serve as a reminder of what once was, the freedom the Penn State community loved. To them, it will be like a bird chirping in the sunshine, outside the bars.