Penn State may never restore its name. For decades, perhaps well into the 22d century, the world will look at the school’s initials, PSU, and think the ‘P’ stands for “Pedophilia.’’ That is Jerry Sandusky’s lingering, soiled, disgusting mark on Happy Valley’s sprawling campus.
For all the evil Sandusky perpetrated, sodomizing young boys on PSU property for years while an assistant football coach, at least four other men perpetuated it. Legendary coach Joe Paterno was perhaps Sandusky’s key enabler, and according to the detailed Louis Freeh report that was released on Thursday, three other key PSU officials knew for years what was happening and opted not to stop it.
Former university president Graham Spanier did nothing. Ex-athletic director Tim Curley did nothing. Ditto for former university vice president Gary Schultz. Like Paterno, these men all tried to ignore it, hoped it would go away, tried to cover it up, failed miserably as professionals, and even worse as human beings.
One monster. Four stooges (someone please craft a bronze dunce cap for that Joe Pa statue). All of them men, arguably with Sandusky the only one of the five without the ability to stop what he was doing, although I long ago ran out of patience and sympathy when hearing how creeps who prey on kids can’t curb their urges, can’t summon the willpower it takes to stop ruining a child’s life for the sake of sating their sexual cravings.
Penn State, as Freeh bluntly stated when announcing his findings, must change its culture. That is a humongous task, and the fact that more than $200 million in donations have streamed into school coffers since reports of the scandal broke tells us that there are still some Nittany Lion diehards who won’t stop giving, no matter how heinous the acts or how atrociously the school’s administrative hierarchy failed.
PSU clandestinely operated a porn shop, a child predator’s den, and some donors just can’t submit their donations fast enough. Huh? I’d suggest those checks should be returned, even burned, but who am I kidding? A school with that amount of blood on its hands isn’t going to surrender cash from the drawer, especially with the massive sum it eventually will dole out to the victims.
If Penn State wants to start to turn around its football program, begin to implement a positive and enriching cultural change, it should begin by empowering women within the football program and placing them in significant, authoritative roles.
Women especially should be part of PSU’s football coaching staff. If women can teach chemistry and physics and quantitative analysis in college, I bet they can convey the fine art of blocking and tackling.
Women should be hired as trainers and physical therapists on the football team.
Women should be on equal footing with their male football counterparts, sharing all the demands of the job, the success/failure of the team, the responsibility inherent in providing a safe, nurturing workplace where student-athletes can perform, grow, ideally thrive, without fear of being forced into a shower and raped.
Will women on the job make all the difference, guarantee that the PSU sports culture will be redefined, repaired? Of course not. In fact, the school months ago could have replaced all the coaches on the football staff with women and there would be no guarantee of anything, except a suit filed by the male coaches for wrongful dismissal. What a grand irony, given that some of those assistants also had to know what Sandusky was doing and chose to soldier on dutifully with the rest of the don’t-ask-don’t-tell pack.
Among the most telling, gut-wrenching moments on Thursday was when Freeh related how a collection of janitors, at least one of whom had witnessed Sandusky molesting one of his victims, also chose not to take action. Freeh noted that the janitors feared that revealing the horror would lead to one or more of them being fired.
“If that’s the culture at the bottom,’’ opined Freeh, “God help the culture at the top.’’
Sandusky’s office, as Freeh noted, was adjacent to Paterno’s in the football department. It’s only conjecture, but I doubt a female assistant coach with an office within eye or earshot would have suffered Sandusky’s years of ongoing crimes. Frankly, with a woman or two on the job, constantly around the dressing room and football offices, it’s possible Sandusky wouldn’t have used school property to stage his crimes. He knew the culture. In many ways, he defined it, while Paterno and the other guys in the room grew to accept it.
The Catholic church, in the United States and around the globe, knows well the cost of being found guilty of professionalized, institutionalized pedophilia. It has been impossible not to think of the Catholics when watching the horror play out at Penn State. The church has paid, and continues to pay, a staggering financial price for the sex crimes committed within its dominating, suffocating, obfuscating male culture, one that has steadfastly refused to place women in roles of substance and influence.
Catholic women can’t be priests. Had women decades ago been empowered by the church to be more, to do more, to say more, some of the horrors would have been prevented.
Equally important, just to use the Boston Archdiocese as an example, had women been more involved and empowered, its parishes today might not be staring at this haunting reality: 85 percent or more of registered parishioners typically don’t attend Mass. It’s not just the pedophilia scandal that has emptied the pews, but it’s a significant part of it, and like Penn State it could be decades before the church recovers its name. Even the most faithful Catholic today must wonder if it will be able to survive as a religion, whether the church’s ongoing decline in worshipers eventually will dictate its own death penalty.
Penn State is left now with no choice but to change. Even though I’m not much of a college football fan, I don’t want to see PSU or the NCAA remove the Nittany Lions from the football field. I’m Catholic, I continue to go to Mass, and I no more would want to see innocent Penn State football players pay the price for Sandusky’s crimes and the hierarchy’s failures than I would want the doors of my parish locked, the religion of my lifetime reduced to both a memory and an object of scorn because of a bunch of perverted priests and the failures of dim-witted bishops and cardinals.
Sandusky is in jail, will remain there, and even that’s too good for him. Paterno is dead and disgraced, and the only right thing to do with his statue is to melt it down and refashion it as a bench or marker in a spot on campus that remembers Sandusky’s victims. The rest of Penn State’s all-male Sandusky enablers will pay dearly in the hell purchased by their warped decisions.
Some of Sandusky’s victims will never heal, no matter what is said in a court of law or in a therapist’s office, no matter the number of zeros that Penn State will write on the checks that will never make them whole.
Football today remains virtually an all-male world on high school and college campuses across the land. Common sense tells us that the Sanduskys of the world aren’t lurking around the vast majority of these programs, sizing up prey, shattering lives, and pocketing souls.
But common sense should also tell us that if it happened at Penn State, it can happen anywhere. Putting women in positions of authority, empowering them in these all-male environments to teach, to train, to heal, and simply to do right when a child is wronged, would be an important first step in cultural change.