Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Goodbye, State College

Where the hell do you even start with a mess this big? I mean, seriously -- I don't know.

They need to raze this campus. They need to burn it to the ground and completely start over. Everyone is guilty and nothing is clean.

It's not just that the allegations of child rape and molestation that touched this whole thing off are incredibly disturbing. I read the grand jury report on Saturday. I don't recall a legal document ever making my skin crawl. It's some really grotesque shit. The allegations are plenty disturbing.

But it's not just the allegations. 

Everything we've learned so far points pretty clearly toward a deliberate institutional cover-up that goes back to at least 1998. Since Saturday, we've learned about several specific incidents that have occurred over the last 13 or so years, and they're all equally stomach turning. The people involved all appear equally revolting in the light of a grand jury report, and none of this is going to get any prettier as the legal process advances itself.

In 2002, a graduate assistant named Mike McQueary walked in on a sixty-something year-old man raping a little boy in a locker room shower, and instead of making any attempt to pull the kid out of there, instead of calling the police or 911, instead of taking any real action at all, he went home and called his dad.

And then he and his dad, instead of reporting anything to the police or any other authority, went to Joe Paterno and told him about it. So naturally, Joe took this horrifying eyewitness testimony and took it straight to...the athletic director, Tim Curley, and some finance administration stooge named Gary Schultz. And then Curley and Schultz, being the fine, upstanding citizens they are, took it directly to, well, nobody. Except maybe Penn State University President Graham Spanier, but he claims to have no idea that any of this happened.

Why didn't McQueary go to police? Why didn't Paterno follow up with Curley or Schultz? Why didn't he just call the cops? Why didn't the administration, which very clearly knew Jerry Sandusky had a thing for little boys, do anything beyond telling him he wasn't allowed to bring said boys to campus? And it's not like this started in 2002.

Evidence of wrongdoing on Jerry Sandusky's part goes back, at the moment, to 1998, when Sandusky was accused of having an inappropriate interaction with a young boy, and Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar chose not to prosecute the case. Why didn't Gricar move forward with the case? That should be the first question anyone asks Gricar as soon as they find him. He disappeared in 2005 and was declared legally dead in July of this year. Not that these two are connected, but that's just how weird this story is.

There's been a lot of talk in the last few days about Penn State as a sort of Camelot. Michael Weinreb's piece on Grantland about growing up in State College made its way around the internet yesterday. It's a fair characterization of the culture of that place. My family is full of Penn State people, I've spent a significant amount of time in State College, and I think he's pretty spot-on. 

Look at the fanatical devotion people have to this school. Look at how fiercely these monsters are defending their sainted football coach, yet calling for Spanier's head on a pike.

But this isn't a Camelot situation. It's not like everything came crashing down when some people got together and decided to shoot the President. The fervency with which Penn Staters speak of their proud football tradition, the reverence they have for their school, and the undying admiration they have for their first citizen, Joe Paterno, is closer to cult-like than anything else. State College isn't Camelot so much as it is Jonestown. 

And like cult leaders, Penn State brass seem to have an enduring belief in their own invincibility. The university knew about the allegations against Sandusky in 1998. They knew about them in 2002. And they knew about the latest grand jury investigation. And yet, on Saturday, when the grand jury report came out, PSU leadership responded by issuing a statement saying it was standing by Curley and Schultz, and would even pay for Curley's legal costs. On Tuesday, Spanier canceled Paterno's weekly press conference 40 minutes before it was supposed to start, and after State College had become flooded media. Then, Paterno tried to go rogue and host a press conference off-campus, only that never materialized. And over a 12-hour period, things came unraveled. These guys made every PR gaffe possible. When you put that in context with their prior statements and their total failure to get out in front of a story they knew was coming after trying to cover it up for 13 years, what possible explanation could there be other than that they thought they were going to get away with it? Who would hold them responsible? Nobody had before, so why would they start now?

How is this unlike a cult?

Earlier today, I posted an item from Huffington Post to a social networking site, showing footage of students marching in the street in support of Paterno last night, and I wrote that to support Paterno and condemn Spanier in the same breath was the worst kind of hypocrisy. Someone wrote the following back to me:

Joe did the best he could with the information he had at the time. He reported it up the chain of command just as he should. He left it to the University officials to do their job and take the appropraite steps- just as he had done. Joe is now taking the brunt of this for being such a figure-head of PSU, and taking knocks from the media so they can sell a story. Let's not forget who the true monster is in all of this. JoePa has done a LOT of great things for Penn State and is beyond generous to that community- much of what he does goes unreported. As someone who I'm sure at least has a few friends if not family that are Penn State alums, now is when they need support, as they are all feeling the sheer embarassment of this whole situation. This does not define who Penn State, or what they stand for, and I only think it would be appropriate for them to rally together out of pride in a school that has given them so much and for a man who has given his life to the Penn State name. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, and I have no doubt that Joe wishes he had done more. But reporting what you know to your superior is certainly not covering anything up. Above him? Absolutley, they were more concerned with the business of football over the lives of these young children- and that is despicable. But the easy way out is to blame Joe, which is unfair. It's a shame that this will likely be his legacy.

Free Tank Carter's writer emeritus Dan Richey responded swiftly and decisively
You know when you don't need hindsight? When you know your former colleague has had unfettered access to all campus facilities, an office and a parking spot on campus, and is constantly surrounded by little boys, and you know he's been caught in your facilities engaging in sexually abusive behavior with more than one. And you know he's never been criminally investigated. It doesn't take hindsight to know someone needs to alert the authorities in that situation - it takes knowing what Paterno, McQueary, Curley and Spanier all knew in 1998 and decided to ignore the whole time. Instead, what they did for 13 years was know Sandusky personally and professionally, allow him all access to the team and its facilities, and see him over and over and over with dozens of at-risk boys, knowing exactly what he'd been caught doing more than once, and every day, they made the decision not to say anything to anyone about it. That's in Paterno's and McQueary's cases, at least. Curley and Schultz took the extra step of actively covering it up and committing perjury.

I agree with Dan in all senses but one, in that I think Paterno and McQueary are just as complicit as Schultz and Curley. What kind of sick fuck do you have to be to give someone a pass just because he's been coaching football well for 46 years? How many child rapists would Penn State football have to knowingly employ for it not to be okay that he let this slide for 13 years?

In 2004, Curley, Spanier and some other administrators went to Paterno's house and tried to fire him. Yet he kept his job. How do you think he managed that? Cory Giger touched on this briefly during his radio show yesterday [you can find it beginning around the 1:09:30 mark]. How does a football coach accrue so much power at a university that even the president and athletic director can't fire him? You can't do that without digging your own grave in the process. It's simply not possible. This guy isn't your grandfather unless your grandfather happens to be Vito Corleone. That's the kind of moral compass we're dealing with here. It's easily the largest scandal in the history of college sports, and on a moral scale, it's worse than most of the iconic ones we instantly think of. It's worse than Tonya Harding. It's worse than the fixing of the 1919 World Series. It's worse than the point-shaving debacle at Michigan. It's worse than steroids in baseball, and it's worse than a freak accident, like an entire team dying in a plane crash. Furthermore, we've never seen such a precipitous fall like this. The next closest thing would probably be the year-long decline of Tiger Woods, and that's got nothing on this.

There's moral and legal culpability here. There are perpetrators, there are conspirators, and there are victims. Anyone who sees Paterno as a victim here is a brainwashed drone who has totally lost the ability to determine right from wrong.

Everyone must go. Penn State has put itself in a position wherein nobody from the administration must go. Everyone from the football team must go. There is no alternative. They must tear this whole thing down before they can even think about starting over. Penn State can not rebuild its image or its football program on 45 years of Joe Paterno. Penn Staters, you're about to find out what it's like to be Pirates fans, only more embarrassing. 

I'm off to watch TV. The students are about to make Vancouver look like Pleasantville.


John said...

I think this post sums it up pretty well, but let me just highlight something from that Penn State commenter that I find so horrific, so repugnant, that my eyes wept blood for several minutes.

"Joe did the best he could with the information he had at the time. He reported it up the chain of command just as he should. He left it to the University officials to do their job and take the appropriate steps- just as he had done."

NO! That is not what he should have done. Are you insane? When you find someone raping a child, do you know who you call?

The fucking cops!

I mean damn, how does someone not know that? You don't report it up the fucking chain of command, because its not a fucking performance review gone bad, its a horrific crime committed against people who are the most vulnerable.

Its a crime! You call the cops. Cops deal with crimes. Guess who doesn't have the authority to deal with rapes? Athletic directors.

Damn. Every time I think my opinion of people cannot sink any lower, I had to read that Penn State fanatics diarrhea alphabet soup.

Also, good blog post.

Matt said...

By the end of the week, Penn State is going to make Ohio State look like the United Way.

Julia said...

So perhaps as someone who knows nothing about sports, I am out of line having an opinion about this, sure sure what Joe did was wrong, firing him was probably he right choice, etc etc... But why aren't we laying blame on the graduate assistant who actually witnessed the crime for not going to the police? Surely they, too, had access to a telephone and an eyewitness reporting the crime to the police would probably have been the best idea, right?

Just saying, I think Paterno is convenient and famous scapegoat whose role in this is being blown out of proportion. Sure, fire him and whatnot, but shouldn't we be spending more time referring to Sandusky as the root of all evil rather than a coach who had a previously excellent record (both ethically and in the sport) who made one terrible decision at the tender age of 75?

Matt said...

He's not a scapegoat, Julia. I think I made it pretty clear that everyone who is involved is at fault, and they all need to go. I don't know how McQueary didn't do anything. That might be the biggest question of all.

TheCommoner said...

You are right Julia, we should be laying blame at the feet of everyone who is culpable. And that should be just about everyone Matt talked about in his post.

But I wanted to respond to something you said in particular.

"Sure, fire him and whatnot, but shouldn't we be spending more time referring to Sandusky as the root of all evil rather than a coach who had a previously excellent record (both ethically and in the sport) who made one terrible decision at the tender age of 75?"

I am not sure why you talk about his age. Are you saying we should cut slack to people his age because they just don't know any better, or are infirm? He seemed in charge of all his faculties so I will dismiss that oddly ageist remark and focus on his decision.

It was not just "one decision at the tender age of 75." It was a conscious decision carried over YEARS of coaching. He had YEARS to do something about it.

Guess what he did? Wait for it.


But I agree. Everyone involved should be fired, and if there is any statute of limitations that has not run out, then maybe we will see prosecutions.

Matt said we will probably see many more people who were involved. I agree.

Julia said...

By mentioning his age I don't mean to say that he was infirm or that he didn't know any better because of his age. I simply meant to imply that at the time he had devoted more than half of his life to the team and when faced with something as devastating as this we have to acknowledge that love and commitment to something can cloud one's judgment. It's not uncommon for people, in the way a mother protects a child that she has nurtured, to try and protect the thing that they love despite the fact that they should know better.

I acknowledge that firing him was the right choice, what I find reprehensible is the media's incessant focus on his negligence simply because he is the most high profile character in the story.

And Matt, he is a scapegoat. Not on your part, I don't disagree with your account at all. But the media is suggesting that it's Paterno's fault that the abuse continued, that if only he had gone to the police it would have all been stopped - but we can't know that. We know that for some unknown reason Sandusky was not pursued in 1998 - how are we to know that the criminal system would have pursued the 2002 case? It just makes me uncomfortable to see such a quick and vicious response when in reality we still know relatively little about exactly how each party was involved.

Rose said...

Great article, Matt. You are absolutely right and summed this up pretty well. Why the grad student did nothing is uncertain, but he'll lose his job just like the rest of them. A PG article called his position "expendable."

Have you heard anything about Sandusky's involvement with Second Mile? I'm just waiting until that news hits.

Cnwein said...

I do agree that everyone in the penn state administration is at fault but I do think there is a certain line that can't be crossed on how many people you can hold accountable. In the grand jury report it's mentioned that Second Mile was made aware of Sandusky's behavior. To me it seems more atrocious that a charitable organization founded on helping under privileged boys did absolutely nothing to prevent it from happening again.

In a sense, the people at Second Mile just decided to continue their work while well aware that Sandusky was basically using this charitable organization of which he is the main source of income as his personal brothel.