Columnists, NCAA, Sports

McCARTHY: The shame of Happy Valley

Well, we now know the depths of despair in college athletics today.

For years, the standard bearer of programs misbehaving has been the cash laden antics of Southern Methodist University football in the 1980s. SMU boldly turned their noses up at the very idea of discretion, and in turn received the program decimating “death penalty.”  Twenty years later, the Mustangs still feel the aftershock of the NCAA’s gavel coming down on them.

So, given the recent events in Happy Valley, what does this mean for Penn State University? The implications regarding the case against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky are profound.

Make no mistake about it – this is the worst scandal in the history of college athletics.

The grotesque allegations are horrifyingly transcendent in comparison to any other scandals in recent memory. In fact, they propel the phrase “sports scandal” into a whole other stratosphere. From a sports perspective, the details reveal an irresponsible and ultimately complicit program. From a moral perspective, it is truly humanity at its worst.  This cannot be overstated.

For those of you that don’t know, these are the details:

Sandusky, 67, was a football coach at Penn State for 30 years and served as defensive coordinator from 1977 to 1999.  He was a former player for the Nittany Lions from 1963 to 1965, and stayed on as a graduate assistant following his graduation. So, all told, he has been intimately involved with the football program for almost 50 years.

As part of his retirement package, he was given a parking pass, permanent office and unlimited access to the Penn State athletic facilities. According to multiple sources, he took advantage of these amenities and was seen in the football facility as recent as last week.

The reasons for his seemingly sudden retirement are somewhat murky. However, a great deal of his newfound free time was dedicated to his charity for disadvantaged children, The Second Mile. He also took on various other child-centric roles in the area, such as serving as a volunteer football coach at a local high school.

On Saturday, Sandusky was arrested and charged with 40 counts of criminal child sex abuse. The grand jury indictment passed down over the weekend details the sexual abuse of eight boys over the course of 15 years. According to the report, all the boys were participants in The Second Mile program, and the allegations date back to a time when Sandusky was still the defensive coordinator for Penn State.

Now, the specifics of each individual case are horrible. Trust me on this. They tell a story of eight boys whose innocence was stolen from them by a man who was in a position take it without repercussion. If the allegations are true, Sandusky is a truly deplorable human being, and he must pay for his despicable crimes. However, what is equally sickening is that the negligence and complicity on the part of Penn State allowed for all of this to happen.

Allow me to digress –

The common thread between all the victims is the influence of Sandusky’s association with Penn State athletics. He used his status in the football program as a way to lure the children in, and then they were ultimately assaulted on Penn State’s campus. That much is clear.

In their grand jury testimonies, the first three victims told very similar stories. Initially, Sandusky showered them with gifts and attention – they were given sneakers, clothes, football tickets and field passes to PSU practices. One was told he could walk on to the football team; another was bribed with cigarettes and marijuana. Then, eventually, he forced himself upon them. This predominantly occurred in the showers of the football facility, and escalated beyond simply showering and touching. Occasionally, they also slept over Sandusky’s home, where the inappropriate behavior continued.

However, according to the grand jury, Sandusky’s actions went largely unnoticed initially.  So, it remains to be seen if the assault of the first three victims could have been prevented.  Unfortunately, this was certainly not the case in regard to the later allegations.

In 1998, a mother of one of the victims reported to University Police that Sandusky had engaged in sexual activities with her son in the shower of the Penn State athletic facility. In the midst of the investigation, two detectives overheard a distressed Sandusky confessing to the victim’s mother that he had in fact touched her son in the shower. He also apparently made a similar confession to a representative from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. For some reason, inexplicably, no charges were filed.

Additionally, Sandusky was kept on as the Nittany Lions’ defensive coordinator.  Not only that, but a different victim alleges in grand jury testimony that he was assaulted in the time immediately following the dead-end 1998 investigation.

Unbelievably, the negligence would get worse though.

In 2002, graduate assistant Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky sodomizing a ten-year old boy in the showers of the football facility. Shocked by what he had seen, McQueary contacted head coach Joe Paterno and relayed the horrific story. Paterno then passed the information on to athletic director Tim Curley. Shortly thereafter, McQueary was told that the matter was being dealt with.

Ultimately, he was informed that Sandusky’s keys were taken away, and that The Second Mile had been alerted to Sandusky’s actions. McQueary was also informed that Sandusky would not be allowed to bring children on campus any longer. However, the crime was not reported to any law enforcement or child protection agency. Also, in 2010, Curley admitted to the grand jury that Sandusky’s ban was not actually actively enforced. So, essentially, nothing was done in regards to the eyewitness account of Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy.

As a result, more children were assaulted – including the child whose recent confession sparked the ongoing investigation. The proverbial blood of his lost childhood is not only on the hands of Sandusky, but on the hands of anyone who could have prevented it as well.

Let me be clear, if this proves to be true, Jerry Sandusky is the villain here. He is the inhuman sexual predator.

However, it certainly appears that Penn State allowed this to happen. They not only provided Sandusky with the means to prey on children, when they caught wind of his sickness, they did nothing to stop it. Rather than standing up and doing what they were morally obligated to do, they chose to simply distance themselves from the problem. The whole thing is a lesson in self-preservation.

If the final determination of the prosecution concludes that Penn State officials were in fact complicit in all of this, the ramifications must be harsh and far-reaching.

The aiding and abetting of a sexual predator is far worse than the payment of players or breach of recruiting practices. Of all the shameful and despicable antics that have plagued college athletics over the years, this is the worst example. As such, Penn State much be dealt with accordingly.

Today on ESPN, Penn State Alum Matt Millen said, between sobs, “If we can’t protect our kids, we, as a society, are pathetic.” Truer words have never been spoken.

However, there is an inescapable truth amongst all of this that must be considered at length – the university did, in fact, have the ability to protect children. By choosing the preservation of the sanctity of Penn State football, they simply decided to not act.

In doing so, university officials handed the innocence of countless children over to Jerry Sandusky.

Has a program ever been more deserving of the death penalty?


  1. U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, R-7, of Upper Darby, has sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Tuesday requesting a probe into sex abuse allegations surrounding Jerry Sandusky.

    Meehan questioned whether failure to report the 2002 allegations broke Penn State’s own reporting methods and whether the Clery Act was violated.

    The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to publish an annual security report about all criminal offenses reported to campus security authorities or local police agencies.

    “Had the 2002 allegations been properly reported, investigated and disclosed, the later instances of abuse could have been prevented and future victims protected,” Meehan wrote.

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