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Happy Valley Now the Heart of Darkness

A firestorm has engulfed what was once a great university — and in the process it has destroyed the reputation of a great coach.

It’s been less than a week since we learned that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with either sexually abusing or raping eight boys over a 15-year time period. In addition, Tim Curley, the athletic director, and Gary Schultz, the senior vice president for finance and business, were charged with perjury and failing to report to authorities what they knew about the allegations. And last night, the Board of Trustees fired Graham Spanier, president of Penn State, and Joe Paterno, the legendary coach of the Nittany Lions.

The firing of Paterno, who has more victories than any coach in major college football history, has caused outrage among students at Penn State.

For those whose sympathies fall mostly with Paterno, I would simply say to them: Read this. It is a sickening, 23-page Grand Jury report which documents, in clinically gruesome detail, the wicked acts of Sandusky, as well as the extraordinary irresponsibility of top officials at Penn State, including “Joe Pa.” It will transform one’s initial sense of deep sadness to one of burning rage.

The Grand Jury report shows Sandusky to be a man of depravity and malevolence. It is best that we do not delve into the fate he deserves.

As for Penn State: if the Grand Jury report is accurate, it is an institution whose leadership was utterly corrupt. Person after person knew what a monster Sandusky is, the terrible crimes he committed, and yet nothing was ever done to stop him. As a result, he stole the innocence and broke the lives of young children.

There is more. As Tom Boswell of the Washington Post points out in a profoundly insightful column, in 1998, university police did an extensive investigation of accusations against Sandusky, then Penn State’s defensive coordinator, involving his showering with children; two separate incidents, both with 11-year-olds. The mother of one child and a university policeman have testified that, when confronted by the mother, Sandusky said: “I understand I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.” Yet the case was eventually closed. As a result, Sandusky continued his reign of terror.

Why did so many people – including Paterno, a man who by all accounts has lived an honorable life – not intervene? No one was required to do heroic acts; all that was needed were individuals who understood their most basic moral (and legal) duties. And yet everyone involved failed the test. It’s impossible to know with certainty why they did; each individual case was undoubtedly influenced by different factors. But one cannot help but believe that the actors in this tragedy did not want to rock the boat. Football is iconic at Penn State; perhaps they thought they were protecting the institution many of them had come to love. Instead, they have brought to it disgrace. It’s not the first time people who thought they were defending a noble institution ended up dishonoring it.

For years, Penn State was referred to as Happy Valley. It turns out to have been the heart of darkness.

 


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