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THE COVER-UP TO PROTECT THE BRAND NAME: PENN STATE AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

Updated on December 12, 2012

THE COVER-UP TO PROTECT THE BRAND NAME:

PENN STATE AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH


One would not usually associate an institution of higher learning and a church with the term “brand name”, but over the last 30 years or so, education and religion have become big business in the United States. Thus schools and churches are run like corporations, and in the worst instincts of those entities, they are willing to crush underfoot anyone or sweep anything under the carpet that threatens their good name, or more importantly, the cash flow. Although there are many examples to choose from, the two that have received the most ink and media coverage are the sex abuse scandals of Penn State and the Roman Catholic Church. Two organizations entrusted with the development and nurture of students, children, and people in general. The disdain with which they have treated their charges is both shocking and reflects very poorly on the state of our society.

The Catholic Church has been in damage control mode for well over a decade since the stories of pedophile priests running rampant exploded in the news during the late 1990’s. The abuse at Penn State was going on during the same time period, but only reached the national consciousness with the arrest of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky in the fall of 2011. Sandusky served for 30 years as an assistant in one of the most respected college football programs in the country. Penn State, led by the most famous head coach and all-time wins leader-Joe Paterno, represented everything that was good in college athletics. “Joe Pa”, himself, had been at the university for half-a-century, first as a graduate assistant, then assistant coach, before taking over the reins as head man in 1966. Paterno ran a clean program, never a whiff of major scandal. Penn State stood for Middle America- honest, down-to-earth, with their plain uniforms of black and white, black stripe on the white helmet that never changed, sturdy and reliable. Their coaching staff radiated the same image, sporting the black shoes and white athletic socks.

Joe Paterno won his first national championship in 1983 and followed it 4 years later with a second. The 1987 championship was the ultimate triumph because the Nittany Lions defeated the bad boys from the University of Miami in the title game. At the time, the Miami Hurricanes were the nation’s premier rogue program, showcasing all the ills that permeated college sports by the 1980’s- players out of control; being arrested for assault, drugs, among other things; alumni showering players and recruits with money, cars, and other gifts, even including new homes for their parents. Top players were accepted into school, though their academic record did not warrant it, and then were given cupcake classes in order to maintain their eligibility. The 1986-87 Miami team played their role to the hilt, showing up for the championship game wearing army fatigues, and refusing to shake hands with the Penn State players at the traditional pre-game dinner. The college football world was shocked when the heavy underdog Nittany Lions upset the Hurricanes, 14-10. Penn State’s defense played brilliantly, shutting down the supposedly unstoppable Miami offense. Good had conquered evil. All was still right with the world (or so it seemed).

The architect of that monumental victory was defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, whose masterful coaching performance forever won the hearts of the Nittany Lion faithful. It also stamped him as the logical successor to Paterno, after Joe Pa decided to retire. It came as a surprise to many (including this writer), when Sandusky (age 54 at the time) stepped down in 1998, while Paterno (then 71) soldiered on. The reason given for the long time assistant’s departure was he wanted to devote his full attention to the foundation he started for disadvantaged kids. He still retained full privileges at the university and access to all athletic buildings, including the locker room and showers. Paterno coached until midway through the 2011 season, when he was unceremoniously fired following Sandusky’s arrest on sex abuse charges. By the end, Joe Pa had increasingly become a figurehead, sitting in the coaches’ box for most games, instead of roaming the sidelines. His status at Penn State, however, reached unfathomable heights. A football coach whose name adorned the school library, before his retirement, and who brought millions of dollars into the university each year by his prestige and fund-raising efforts. His power was believed to be so great he dictated school policy, and even threw the college president and several trustees out of his house in 2003, when they came to ask him to step down.

We know now the reason for that visit and Sandusky’s early retirement from coaching had to do with rumblings about misconduct by the revered assistant coach. How could Paterno and University officials blatantly ignore what was going on right under the noses when informed of Sandusky’s depraved behavior? For his part, Joe Pa may have had difficulty accepting that a man who was by his side for 30 years possessed such a dark spirit. Nonetheless, at a barest minimum, Paterno should have suspended Sandusky from his coaching duties if allegations were heard before 1998, and afterwards bar his former assistant from using school facilities, at least until an investigation was conducted. Joe Pa did neither, failing not only his players, but any children who came to camps at the school. Paterno was Penn State; Penn State was Paterno, which made his response that he had passed along another coach’s reporting of the infamous shower episode to an assistant athletic director beyond lame. Technically, he claimed he followed school protocol in his handling of the situation, but are you kidding me? A young boy is raped in a shower, and the most Joe Paterno did was to buck the information up the supposed chain of command. An independent report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh came to the conclusion that Paterno knew exactly what Sandusky was doing and kept a lid on it. An allegation Paterno’s family vehemently denies. By dying in January of 2012, Joe Pa removed any chance it will ever be discovered what he knew and when he knew it.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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