You know those people who get sick when they read in cars, or on planes? They can’t deal with all the stuff that’s going on around them outside the windows, so they instantly get nauseous. That’s never been me. I have never gotten sick from reading.
My clean track record almost came to an end today. It wasn’t what was going on around me, it was the content itself.
I read a huge chunk of the Freeh report that came out today detailing the extreme lack of action from Penn State administrators, Joe Paterno, the Second Mile and just about everyone else who had any connection to Jerry Sandusky and it was all I could to to keep myself from violently throwing up.
It’s hard to have a fresh take on what’s happened at Penn State because of the coverage that it gets nationally and because there is one shared feeling – outrage. There’s no alternate way to look at it, unless you’re Matt Millen, who is coming across as so shortsighted in this entire scandal that it makes his GM tenure seem successful.
But one new thing in particular kept standing out to me this morning while I delicately balanced trying to keep my coffee down and trying to learn more about this investigation.
The best way to describe it is a lack of acknowledgement that everybody involved in this case had for what was actually happening. From meetings to emails to phone calls to run-ins in the hallway, nobody every looked another person in the eye and said, “Jerry Sandusky had sex with a young boy on our campus. He is having SEXUAL INTERCOURSE in our showers with boys from his so-called charitable foundation.” Not once was that legitimately broached.
Instead, words like “horsing around,” or “inappropriate behavior,” or “horseplay” were used. Every time university president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley, football coach Joe Paterno or vice president Gary Schultz spitballed to each other about how to handle the “situation,” what had truly happened was never referenced.
In Curley’s meetings with the Second Mile – Sandusky’s charity, from which he was taking the kids and abusing them – there was talk about “showering” and how it “made people uncomfortable.” According to Sandusky’s camp – and obviously this should be taken with a grain of salt – when Schultz and Sandusky met in 2001 to discuss an incident reported to Paterno by Mike McQueary about Sandusky allegedly having sex with a boy in the showers, Schultz never even made any reference to sexual contact. What he actually talked about is anybody’s guess.
It was a calculated denial. If they didn’t say the words sex, or sexual intercourse, then they could convince themselves that it wasn’t actually happening. Sure, it’s a little odd that this guy was showering with children and yes, there had been multiple reported instances of it, but he was probably just horsing around.
Here’s the thinking:
Let’s address it, but not all the way.
Let’s pretend that it’s not as bad as we know it is, because that’s what’s best for our football program and for one of our most famous assistant coaches. We know, in our heart of hearts, that there is serious problem going on within this university, but we’ve never witnessed it firsthand. Because we’ve never witnessed it firsthand, maybe it’s possible that some of the facts got skewed – even though if we thought about it long enough we would know that’s not possible.
Let’s do something, because we can’t just ignore it, but let’s do the absolute bare minimum to make us feel better. Let’s only look at it from where we’re sitting. We know Jerry. We don’t know these kids. Since we can’t actually picture it happening – after all, we’ve never seen it – we can put out of our minds the atrocities that are actually occurring and just play it off. If we can’t picture it, we don’t know the whole truth – but we’re still taking some action.
Ban him from the campus with children, even though it’s admittedly unenforceable.
Talk about we’re going to encourage him to seek counseling, but don’t actually follow up.
Report it to the Second Mile, but use those same phrases – “made people uncomfortable,” “horsing around.”
Then call it a day.
Do you see what I’m getting at? Everyone involved, but particularly Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Paterno knew he was guilty, but didn’t want to do anything because it would endanger the public perception of the university (which is ludicrous, by the way, because they all would have been hailed as heroes). But, because they did know that Sandusky was guilty of what people were saying, there was a part of them that felt like they had to do something to make themselves feel like they didn’t just stand pat and not follow some moral course of action. They needed to feel like they had taken action, because it was the only way they could justify not taking the right action.
If they did a few minor things – i.e. banning Sandusky from the campus – it would make them feel like they had addressed the whole situation. That’s what it was about. They tried to balance the doing what was best for the Penn State football program’s image and what would still make them feel like they had dealt with a child molester, even if they weren’t dealing with it at all.
They were tricking themselves.
That’s why I think that everyone in the case – except maybe Sandusky – believes that they are innocent. I think that Spanier – who hasn’t been charge with perjury, but should be – Schultz and Curley all think they acted the right way because they did something. They’ve convinced themselves that they didn’t know how bad it was because they never saw it actually happening. They received secondhand information and then chose to skew that information when they passed it along to the next party. By the time they were done passing it on, it wasn’t all that bad. Sandusky hadn’t assaulted any boys – he was just making people uncomfortable by showering with them. No real harm there.
When Joe Paterno died he said he wished he had done more, but he certainly didn’t think he was a very accountable party in the whole thing – as evidenced by the vehement, completely unfounded defense tour his family has been over the past two weeks.
Yet, that’s the reality of this situation. Penn State administrators – and Joe Paterno – lied to themselves and in doing so they harbored a sexual predator as a part of their community for over a decade. They allowed this to go on because they couldn’t bring themselves to do the right thing, so they instead justified their lack of action with empty actions. And as they maintain going forward that they did all they could, they’re probably not lying anymore.
Over time, those lies have become the truth to those men.
What’s the Penn State football motto? ‘Win With Honor?’ Somehow, I don’ t think that applies anymore.