Commentary

Penn State should not play football

A predator used the program as bait, and university officials didn't stop him

Updated: July 14, 2012, 2:57 PM ET
By Howard Bryant | ESPN.com

Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University -- President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno -- failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade. These men concealed Sandusky's activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities. They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky's victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001. Further, they exposed this child to additional harm by alerting Sandusky, who was the only one who knew the child's identity, of what [Mike] McQueary saw in the shower the night of February 9, 2001. -- Page 14 of the Freeh report

They come into this world with close to nothing, with little money to make life easier, more respectable or contain more opportunity. The family unit that provides us our stability, which helps life make sense, which provides the mortar that holds it all together, is denied or devastatingly incomplete, a world of single mothers, broken fathers, not enough money, not enough education, not enough luck.

[+] EnlargeJerry Sandusky
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJerry Sandusky used access to Penn State football to lure his victims.

We call them the underclass. We call them the disadvantaged, the underprivileged. With our education, resources and good fortune, we were supposed to be the something good that happens. We were the ones who had more, who said we wanted to change the world and make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. We were the trusted.

The most they have -- their children -- they send out to us. They were sent to Penn State, to Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz and Tim Curley, and to the world to show the goodness in us and what was possible for them with just a little opportunity, if someone, for once, showed a little bit of interest. They got to see the good life -- so visible but inaccessible on television -- in person, on the sideline at practice, at a bowl game, at a Philadelphia Eagles game, standing next to Andy Reid himself. They got to see the simple foundations: the picnics, the gifts and the attention.

The good life, we all know now, was simply the bait, and they were always the prey. Sandusky used the good life as the carrot to rape children. Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz, four fathers, let him do it because they cared about Sandusky, their reputations and their power more than they ever cared about these boys. We know this because we know that for the past decade and a half, there is no record that Paterno, Spanier, Curley or Schultz even asked for the name of the child they were told was being targeted by Sandusky.

May 3, 1998 -- Sandusky assaults Victim 6 in Lasch Building shower. -- Page 19

It went so far that this Penn State four could no longer keep their lies, their corrupted priorities, in order. It went so bad that even the power -- that so often does whatever it can to protect itself -- could no longer deny all that the trusted had not done and had to request outside review that produced a numbing, devastating self-criticism that makes it impossible to deny what must be done.

Penn State cannot be allowed to have a football team.

A culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community. -- Page 17

Paterno, the legendary coach that so many people instinctively protected before thinking about the welfare of the 11-year-old he knew was being sexually assaulted by Sandusky, is dead. So too is the Second Mile foundation, the place we now know Sandusky used to recruit his victims, the place whose leadership called Sandusky preying on the charity's kids a "non-issue," the place Penn State continued to do business with after knowing that Sandusky was assaulting children, the place where 75 percent of its board were Penn State alumni.

If the NCAA and Penn State have any decency, even a shred of integrity, remorse or belief in regaining standing, the Penn State football program, the carrot used by Sandusky to rape children, the monolith that intimidated good people from coming forward and doing the right thing and the financial jewel Paterno, Spanier, Schultz and Curley protected at all costs, should be indefinitely terminated.

There are times when the entire monument must be razed in order to be rebuilt if it is to have any moral value. This is one of those times. To allow Penn State to continue playing football when Southern Methodist University lost its program for something as common as a recruiting scandal is to condone the past and enable the future. It is to suggest that all the next university in trouble need do is to make the right public relations moves.

For Penn State to open the season Sept. 1 versus Ohio when the University of Southwest Louisiana lost its basketball program for two years over academic fraud and recruiting violations after Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Paterno responded to repeated child rape by negotiating not only an honorable discharge for Sandusky, leaving him financially intact, respected and elevated, but also for ways for Sandusky to continue to have contact with young children would show an equally striking lack of regard for the victims. A Paterno handwritten note in 1999 suggests a "Volunteer Position Director" for his trusted assistant.

August 1999: Sandusky is granted "emeritus" rank, which carries several privileges, including access to University recreational facilities.
December 1999: Sandusky brings Victim 4 to 1999 Alamo Bowl.
Sandusky assaults Victim 4 at team hotel.
November 2000: Sandusky assaults Victim 8 in Lasch Building shower.
Janitor observes assault by Sandusky, but does not report the assault for fear that "they'll get rid of all of us."
-- Pages 21-22

Janitor B explained to the Special Investigative Counsel that reporting the incident "would have been like going against the President of the United States in my eyes." "I know Paterno has so much power, if he wanted to get rid of someone, I would have been gone." He explained "football runs this University." -- Page 65

[+] EnlargeLouis Lasch Football Building
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarThe football tradition noted on a Lasch Building window should matter little in the aftermath of the Freeh report.

Most of all, allowing Penn State football to survive and profit -- as if this were only about a couple of kids who cheated on an entrance exam -- says that all of the rhetoric about accountability and protecting children was just exhaust, that compared to the importance of football, the university didn't care then and doesn't care now about children being raped on its premises. It is to retain the culture of intimidation and invincibility that has brought Penn State to this place. If a massive institutional failure that allowed young boys to be sexually molested on campus does not constitute reasonable cause to terminate the program and force true reflection, true change and true reform, nothing can legitimately deserve that penalty. The fear of Janitor B to come forward as a whistleblower in the face of power would be justified. Penn State football would indeed be invincible.

Despite Spanier's, Schultz's, Paterno's and Curley's knowledge of criminal investigations of Sandusky regarding child abuse as early as 1998, they failed to control Sandusky's access to the University's facilities and campuses. -- Page 103

The most they have -- their children -- they sent out to us. We still call them the disadvantaged because it makes us feel good, but in deciding to hand their sons and daughters off to a teacher, a coach, a troop leader or a priest, to tell them to listen to the adults, not to talk back and do what they are told, tax brackets and nice houses don't matter. They are us, and we are them. In that transaction, the decision to entrust our children to someone who may be the best swim coach in town or may be Jerry Sandusky, we are all equals.

Perhaps there was nothing anyone could do to keep Sandusky from striking once, but Spanier, Schultz, Curley and, yes, Paterno had the power to prevent it from happening again. They demonstrated instead that the carrot was more important. They allowed the bait to work.

As with the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts (among other large organizations that have previously failed to stop abuse), no parent can send a child into the world without wondering not only if a Sandusky is near their child but also if there are Paternos and Spaniers, Curleys and Schultzes who lack the courage and priority to protect them. The trusted failed, and everyone lost.