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Monday, November 14th 2011

9:21 AM

A Black Eye for the Blue and White

First off, let me say that I am not a graduate of Penn State University. However, that doesn't mean that I'm not aware of what "Penn State" means.

I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania and have rooted for Penn State football since as far back as I can remember. When the Nittany Lions won the national championship in 1982, I think I received a commemorative mug and T-shirt as Christmas presents. Once, when I went to softball camp there during high school, I was on the same indoor practice field where Joe Paterno was leading the Nittany Lions through practice. For a time, I considered going to college at Penn State. In my professional career, I've always worked at television stations that provided a lot of coverage to Penn State football. And, recently, I've been a guest speaker for some journalism classes at the main campus.

So, even though I'm not a Penn State graduate, I've always been aware of the university and what it - and the football program, the school's crown jewel - stand for: class, pride, and a reputation beyond reproach.

Those qualities are just some of the reasons why the scandal that has exploded in the wake of the child sex abuse charges against former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is so shocking. Every single element of this story is horrible. For a university with, basically, a lily-white reputation, this is as black as it can get.

The GRAND JURY PRESENTMENT is simply awful to read. The allegations against Sandusky are terrible in their own right. Just as awful, however, is the inaction of people who were in a position to act in a way that perhaps could have prevented some of these crimes from happening. The saying is that the cover up is worse than the crime. In this case, however, they are both absolutely horrible.

In the days since the scandal broke, many questions have been asked. Why didn't anyone call the authorities? Should the university have fired Joe Paterno? There are other questions, and there will be more, but these seem to be the main ones. How could so many people in authority have had at least some inkling that something wrong was happening and have responded by doing little more than nothing?

These questions are why the university's Board of Trustees had no choice but to fire Joe Paterno (of course, they handled it all wrong, but that's a separate issue). Any number of people could have - and should have - notified the authorities about the suspected child sexual abuse by Sandusky. But, Paterno is the one who definitely needed to do it. He notified folks up the chain at the university. But, when they did nothing of consequence, Paterno apparently let the matter drop. It doesn't seem as though he followed up at all. Paterno may have fulfilled his legal responsibility, but he failed in his moral responsibility.

Penn State is a university known around the world for its football program. Joe Paterno is the face of that program and, therefore, the face of the university. In his time as head coach, Penn State never had an NCAA violation. He coached players who then sent their sons and grandsons to play for him. But, when it came time to speak up against one of his coaches, to speak up for the alleged victims, he failed. Joe Paterno is Penn State. And, he failed to live up to the values that he and the school represent. And, that why Joe had to go.

I'll conclude by saying that, even though Paterno and president Graham Spanier are gone, and two other PSU officials face charges, I don't believe for one minute that this scandal is anywhere close to being over. The Penn State community may have tried to start healing, but I think there are still more band-aids to be ripped off.
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