Joel: Justice achieved in the Sandusky trial
By Blaze Joel, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, July 3, 2012
At about 10 p.m. on June 22, with little pomp and circumstance, a man in a brown jacket and green tie was escorted in handcuffs from Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa. He had been convicted of 45 criminal counts, all of which centered on his inappropriate sexual conduct with minors. Jerry Sandusky, the former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach, could face over 400 years in prison.
I grew up in a small town about an hour and a half southeast of State College, Pa. I have been to Beaver Stadium, own a Joe Pa autographed photo and have eaten at the Creamery. Although I have never been a Penn State football fan, I have always respected the program. Football coach Joe Paterno built “Linebacker U” from the ground up, and the success of the football program brought not only local glory, but also national recognition. In fact, to many, Nittany Lion football and Joe Pa define Penn State.
This keystone of the university was wrenched out in November 2011, when news of the Sandusky child abuse scandal broke. Soon after, the university’s athletic director and vice president resigned. Both are now facing criminal charges for perjury and obstruction. University President Graham Spanier and Paterno were also fired. Chaos ensued and the students took to the streets, flipping a news van and toppling light poles.
The first allegations of sexual abuse arose in 1994 from a child whom Sandusky met through the Second Mile Foundation, a charity that he founded in 1977 to mentor children from under-resourced backgrounds. Further allegations came in 1998 after Sandusky showered with another child. This led to Sandusky’s retirement from Penn State, though he was still granted access to team and campus facilities. In 2002, graduate assistant and former Nittany Lion quarterback Mike McQueary reportedly witnessed an incident involving Sandusky and a young boy in the locker room showers. Reports say that McQueary passed this information to Paterno, but no criminal charges were filed at the time.
Recently, emails between the vice president, athletic director and Spanier discussing Sandusky’s involvements in incidents of sexual abuse were recovered. The emails revealed that the higher-ups at Penn State allegedly believed that it was more “humane” to keep the issue in-house rather than reporting it to the authorities, according to CNN. Spanier also reportedly acknowledged that the university could be “vulnerable.”
Many people now ask, how could this have happened? What could have been done to prevent a man from preying on vulnerable children? In this case, the fear of destroying a football program and tarnishing the reputation of a legendary coach got in the way of protecting these kids. The emails reveal the lengths to which the university protected both its image and Paterno at the expense of numerous victims. No one dared to step up and speak out, and that allowed Sandusky to thrive. Denial was a safer, perhaps even a happier, place.
Denial is something that Sandusky demonstrated throughout his trial. He was offered pleas but continued to maintain his innocence. He showed no regard for his victims, as eight of them got up on the stand and described their horrific memories and the “love letters” that Sandusky reportedly wrote them. In total, Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse perpetrated against 10 boys. During the trial, Sandusky’s adopted son reportedly made statements suggesting that he also had been victimized.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” The university’s severe digression from what it means to be humane makes the incidents almost impossible to believe.
The motto of Penn State’s student philanthropy group THON, which raises money for pediatric cancer patients, is “For the kids.” This is the motto that people should have followed, but the silence of the many drowned out the cries of the few. THON is an organization that is a beacon of hope for thousands of kids, and an example of what The Second Mile should have been: a refuge and a source of support.
If one person, even someone who just heard a rumor, had followed the “for the kids” mantra, this whole scandal might have been averted. One person--that’s it. One person to step up and say, “Wait a minute. This isn’t right.” But that is not what happened. People continued to protect Joe Pa and Nittany Lion football, allowing Sandusky to continue perpetrating heinous crimes.
With Sandusky behind bars, perhaps healing for the victims and their families can begin. Hopefully, we will never forget our obligation to be the good person that King called for: to do what it is right, no matter how loud you have to scream to be heard.