There’s no place in hell that’s hot enough for Penn State University’s apologists in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child rape scandal.
It was already stomach turning to see NBC touting their “exclusive” jailhouse interview with Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State coach who was convicted on 45 charges of child sexual abuse. The evidence against Sandusky was so damning that the jury merely took 20 hours to come to their conclusion, resulting in a sentence that will keep Sandusky in prison for the rest of his life.
Sandusky used his children’s charity to give him access to young boys, including one child that he raped in a shower.
Now it turns out that the Sandusky footage NBC plans to use comes from a documentary called The Framing of Joe Paterno, which seeks to excuse the former Penn State’s coach enabling of Sandusky over years and years and years. The documentary is from John Ziegler, who was previously infamous for a 2009 documentary that attacked the media for their supposedly unfair coverage of Sarah Palin (that bit of nonsense ALSO debuted on Today).
This is the kind of thing that makes me think, if there is a god, he/she/it might want to go all Noah’s Ark on humanity once again … only this time without a Noah and without an ark.
Of course, Sandusky’s appearance on the Today Show is just the latest stop on the Football-Is-More-Important-Than-Child-Rape Promotional Tour. Last February, supposed journalist Katie Couric hosted members of the Paterno family on her daily talk show to discuss an “independent review” – commissioned by the Paternos, natch – of former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s scathing report on the institutional failures at Penn State that let Jerry Sandusky get away with his hideous sexual assaults.
Let’s not forget what we’re talking about here. This isn’t just a case of one horrible person doing unspeakable acts in private. Responsibility for Sandusky’s crimes went all the way to the top of the university’s leadership. In an interview on PBS’s NewsHour following the release of the Free Report, Mr. Freeh said of Joe Paterno and others within the university hierarchy:
There’s a whole bunch of evidence here. And we’re saying the reasonable conclusion from that evidence is [Paterno] was an integral part of this active decision to conceal.
[Former PSU president Graham] Spanier, [former senior vice president Gary] Schultz, Paterno and [former athletic director Tim] Curley repeatedly concealed facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large. None of them ever spoke to Sandusky about his conduct. In short, nothing was done, and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity.
But the Paterno family – and Sandusky himself, apparently – are sufficiently newsworthy and deserving of public attention that major media outlets give them airtime to defend themselves and the university.
As hateful as this is, we all know why it’s happening. It’s not just because the media is unbearably awful, which, of course, it is. It’s because we idolize sports and sports figures in the same way we idolize gods and religious leaders. What happened at Penn State is chillingly similar to what happened in the Catholic Church, where leaders protected sexual predators in order to protect the institution itself, as though the institution were more important than the people it’s supposed to serve. And because the public places entirely too much importance on these institutions, venerates these institutions over people, the public finds it hard to accept that the institutions themselves are corrupt.
And harder still to hold the institutions accountable for enabling sexual predators in their midst.
Ask yourself this. Do you really think the Penn State football program is the only institution where a Jerry Sandusky could get away with crimes like that? Do you really think Penn State is the only place where a Jerry Sandusky got away with crimes like that? Unlike professional sports, in college sports it’s the coaches, more than the players, who achieve godlike status. It’s the Joe Paternos, the Lou Holtzes, the Mike Krzyzewskis and the Bob Knights who walk on water in the NCAA’s universe. And these men are not only revered by the public, by college alumni, by sportswriters and the like; they are extremely powerful within the institutions they work for. In reality, the institutions work for them.
Not that it would ever happen, but imagine if a young abuse victim tried to stand up to, say, a guy like Mike Krzyzewski, or one of Krzyzewski’s assistants. Would people believe the child over an unimpeachable guy like Coach K? Would you?
So you can’t deal with a situation like Jerry Sandusky simply by punishing Sandusky himself, or firing a handful of university officials and football coaches. We’ve seen what happened in the Catholic Church when only a small number of individuals were punished for rape and for covering up rape. No; the only way to deal with crimes like Sandusky’s is to make the university and the offending program pay such a terrible price that everyone associated with the institution will recognize that covering up the crime is a far worse alternative than disclosing it.
Which is why the sanctions leveled against Penn State by the NCAA and the Big 10 Conference were simply insufficient. Under those sanctions, Penn State was banned from postseason bowl games and from the Big 10 title game for a period of four years, and it cannot share in the Conference’s bowl revenues for the same four year period. Additionally, the NCAA limited the number of scholarships the football program can offer to players over the next four years.
But they’re still playing football at Penn State, and they’re still on television. And in just three more years, everything will be back to normal. The stands at 107,000-seat Beaver Stadium were full this past season, and they will be again for the foreseeable future. Penn State went 8-4 last year, 6-2 in the Big 10, which is pretty impressive for a team “crippled” by sanctions, and most, if not all, of its games were nationally televised. Consequently, we all got to see Penn State’s adoring fans cheering like mad for a program that covered up years of child rape for its own benefit … and for their benefit; for the fans’ benefit.
So the question is: Were the penalties anywhere near harsh enough to deter the next coach or athletic director from covering up crimes to protect the university and its adoring fans? Of course they weren’t.
[Cross-posted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles]