Former longtime Penn St. football coach will be going to prison presumably for the rest of his life.
Jerry Sandusky, the longtime defensive coordinator and onetime heir to Joe Paterno’s job, was convicted last Friday on 45 of the 48 counts that were brought against him for child sexual abuse and related charges. At 68 years old, Sandusky—who has yet to be formally sentenced—will likely die in prison where he belongs. It’s not enough. The punishment, sadly, does not fit the crime. He won’t live long enough in confinement to adequately pay for the suffering and humiliation he brought on those 10 boys he raped…..the 10 we know of.
I didn’t pay much attention to the Jerry Sandusky saga. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t stomach it. It was all far too sordid and depressing. What little I did read or see on TV about the case made it abundantly clear that the venerated, long time coach at Penn St. University was guilty. There was simply too much there. The evidence kept on piling up, and none of it looked good for the coach, the football program, or the university in its entirety.
But this case is not just about the habitual and repeated sexual abuse of young boys by a well respected coach. It’s about far more than that. It’s about the breach of trust by some of the most respected football coaches in America at one of the biggest college football programs in the country.
Like I said, I couldn’t bring myself to follow the case all that closely. It hits far too close to home for me for a number of reasons. I worked in the NFL for 11 years, for most of that time as a college scout. I am currently a high school football coach. I don’t know what others within the coaching community are thinking about this—not even guys I coach with. It has been treated over the past few months as some sort of sick joke, like “don’t pull a Sandusky,” or “make sure the kid doesn’t get Sanduskied.” I suppose it’s a coping mechanism of sorts; make light of the situation so we don’t have to be so utterly disgusted by what happened, since we all work with kids, and it’s all too easy to imagine something like that happening to the young men we try to set a positive example for every day.
As a high school coach, I understand that the parents place their absolute and unbending trust in us as coaches to always look out for the best interests of their kids. It is our job not only to teach them the game of football, but in whatever small ways we can to help mold them into better young men in hopes that some of the lessons they learn on the football field will carry over with them into their lives after football and help to make them the best men they can possibly be. It is our job to teach them the values and rewards of hard work and discipline. It is our job to teach them the importance of being able to work as a team. “One man is no man,” as the saying goes, and that is as true in life as it is in football.
As a coach, it is absolutely unconscionable to me that a man that was a role model for so many could commit such despicable and heinous acts, preying on young, impressionable, disadvantaged, and completely vulnerable boys who were in desperate need of a father figure. These boys admired him; they looked up to him. They trusted him, and he betrayed that trust in the most unspeakable manner. He used that trust and vulnerability to get away with it for 15 years, convincing these kids that no one would believe them if they told, and that the repercussions would be severe if they did.
And he was right. No one did believe them when it was reported. Even after then graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary caught the old bastard in the act in the locker room shower no one quite believed them. Or they didn’t much care. I’m not sure which……or which is worse.
McQueary was in a tough spot. He didn’t go directly to the police like he probably should have. He was absolutely stunned and in shock at what he had seen, and I would guess he had a really hard time processing it. After all, this was the head-coach-in-waiting at Penn St. University. People like that just don’t do depraved things like this.
Instead, McQueary went first to his father for advice, and then to Head Coach Joe Paterno. ‘Ol JoePa himself.
For those of you who aren’t aware, JoePa was a veritable god in the coaching community. He had been a member of the Penn St. coaching staff for 62 years prior to his dismissal in 2011, 45 of those years as the head coach. This man was a legend. He was the standard by which coaches were measured (not really, not in the last decade, at least not among football “insiders”).
Joe Paterno was relieved of his coaching duties in November, 2011, after the Sandusky charges were brought to full light. He died almost three months later, on January 22, 2012, at the age of 85 of lung cancer.
As a former scout I suppose I shouldn’t be all that surprised. In NFL scouting circles JoePa was not exactly the most popular or beloved figure. A scout’s job is to evaluate college players by going to the schools, talking to the coaches and trainers, watching film, and attending practice. That’s the way it works at just about every football playing college and university in the country, the only exceptions that I know of being Lloyd Carr’s University of Michigan program (Carr retired in 2007) and Joe Paterno’s Penn St. At least Carr opened the campus to scouts for a few weeks at the beginning of each season, and for a week or two during bowl season.
JoePa? The NFL was completely banned from Penn St. No Penn St. coaches were allowed to talk to NFL scouts. Penn St. never submitted their game films to NFL Films to be duplicated for all 32 NFL teams. The only way scouts ever got to look at Penn St. film was when an opposing coach was willing to share whatever film he had on Penn St., which was all the time. Most college coaches welcome the NFL’s presence (although the constant stream of scouts can get to be a bit of a nuisance). Not JoePa. He was always paranoid that the scouts would act as spies for his opponents, and would lock his College Station headquarters down like a fortress.
It’s almost as if he was trying to hide something. And with the revelations about what his most trusted assistant was up to, it makes you wonder what else he might have been hiding, afraid of what the scouts might uncover. Mike McQueary reported what he saw to Paterno, and Paterno chose to do nothing about it. Eventually Sandusky just slithered into retirement, but he was still granted unlimited access to Penn St. football facilities. University administrators—the athletics director and the university president—knew of McQueary’s report, but no one ever acted on it, and no one went to the police.
This all happened under Joe Paterno’s watch, in Joe Paterno’s Penn St. football facilities, and no one put a stop to it.
I put myself in Mike McQueary’s shoes and I can almost understand why he handled things the way he did. These were not just men, these were some of the greatest figures in the coaching community. If he goes and blows the whistle and nothing comes of it, then his career is over before it even begins (he was just a grad assistant at the time). These were some of the most trusted and revered names in the game, and he was just goddamned lucky to be there, thankyouverymuch. At least he did something. Paterno, the guy who probably could have been elected president at the time, effectively chose to turn the other cheek. He reported it to the university admins, and they chose to let him deal with it. He swept it under the rug.
Today, Jerry Sandusky is in prison, under suicide watch. He still insists on his innocence; that he loved those kids and would never hurt them. Because in a pedophile’s mind, raping a child is not rape at all, it’s “loving” them. And it doesn’t matter that the kids he raped did not play for the team he coached. That fact only makes it worse.
Jerry Sandusky has brought shame and disgrace to the coaching community. But Joe Paterno, through his inaction, has earned a full share of that shame and disgrace. He knew about it, and he did nothing.