Commentary

Put the victims of abuse first

Pro coaches, athletes and celebrities who supported The Second Mile should stand up

Updated: November 16, 2011, 3:23 PM ET
By Howard Bryant | ESPN.com

If the powers that control State College endured a self-inflicted bad week while abruptly ending Joe Paterno's career, the last seven days have been no better for The Second Mile.

Jerry Sandusky, the charity's founder, has been charged by the state as a pedophile but is out on unsecured bail and began a national stay-out-of-jail campaign. His lawyer agreed to a televised interview with Bob Costas (Sandusky called in) on NBC's "Rock Center." If his intent was to proclaim his innocence, Sandusky's ambiguous answers led many observers to question his legal strategy.

The other big players have lawyered up. Paterno has spoken briefly to the crowds on his lawn. The two Penn State officials charged with perjury, former athletic director Tim Curley and former university vice president Gary Schultz, aren't speaking at all. Mike McQueary, other than a brief non-informative interview with CBS, has also kept quiet, although a version of his story not described in the grand jury report has been leaking out via friends who have received correspondence from him.

[+] EnlargeJerry Sandusky
AP Photo/Pennsylvania Office of Attorney GeneralJerry Sandusky continues to deny he broke the law.

Paterno has been fired and his name stricken from the Big Ten championship trophy. And university president Graham Spanier has been dismissed. But the children of this sordid, incomprehensible case, the actual victims, still haven't come first. To date, no single entity involved has voluntarily done the right thing, the decent thing.

Meanwhile, big, famous names, from Mark Wahlberg to Cal Ripken to Arnold Palmer, who were on The Second Mile's honorary board of directors, have been as quick to treat the charity like Kryptonite as to stand up for the alleged victims.

Add Pennsylvania District Court Judge Leslie Dutchcot to the list. When Sandusky was charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of a minor, prosecutors requested $500,000 secured bail and that Sandusky be required to wear a leg monitor at all times. Dutchcot refused prosecutors' requests and set bail at $100,000. With the bail unsecured, Sandusky was not even required to produce that amount, so long as he appeared for his court date. Without a monitoring device, law enforcement does not know the whereabouts of a man accused of sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period.

Dutchcot, it turns out, volunteered for The Second Mile and also was the beneficiary of a political fundraiser held by Robert Poole, the chairman of the charity, in 2007. Technically, Dutchcot was not obligated to recuse herself from the case for potential conflict of interest, but like so much of what has transpired in State College over the past two weeks, a great gap exists between legal and moral obligation, and common sense is lagging far behind self-interest.

The Second Mile, supposedly focused on serving children, has known -- at least according to the grand jury report -- of Sandusky's alleged inappropriate contact with children since 1998. On the same day Sandusky took to the airwaves, Jack Raykovitz, The Second Mile CEO, resigned from his position. Another card house -- perhaps the most important in the chain as the charity is being accused by the government of being the place where Sandusky allegedly found his victims -- begins its inevitable collapse. Too little, too late, and more than a week after the indictment, the organization announced its own internal investigation by former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham.

In its initial response to Sandusky's arrest, though, The Second Mile sounded as out of touch as Paterno:

"As The Second Mile's CEO Jack Raykovitz testified to the Grand Jury, he was informed in 2002 by Pennsylvania State University Athletic Director Tim Curley that an individual had reported to Mr. Curley that he was uncomfortable about seeing Jerry Sandusky in the locker room shower with a youth," The Foundation wrote on its website. "Mr. Curley also shared that the information had been internally reviewed and that there was no finding of wrongdoing. At no time was The Second Mile made aware of the very serious allegations contained in the Grand Jury report."

At what point does "seeing Jerry Sandusky in the locker room shower with a youth" translate to "at no time was The Second Mile made aware of the very serious allegations contained in the Grand Jury report?" The organization didn't cut ties with the former coach until he himself informed the organization that he was under investigation six years later.

For Raykovitz and The Second Mile, Sandusky's reach and connection with Penn State's football program created access to the sports world and its cozy "you play at my golf tourney and I'll sit on your board" multimillions and corresponding handshake deals, tickets and other gratuities. According to a 2010 Department of Education study, the Penn State football program was the third-most profitable college team in America, earning an estimated annual profit of $50 million, and as such it is obvious why The Second Mile was hesitant to sever such a potentially lucrative conduit as Sandusky.

Which brings us back to the honorary board loaded with former athletes and coaches. When Sandusky was indicted Nov. 5, Ripken was listed as a member. So were Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famers Franco Harris and Jack Ham. So were Paterno, Palmer, Wahlberg, Andy Reid, Dick Vermeil, Matt Millen and Lou Holtz, among others.

[+] EnlargeCal Ripken, Jr
Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty ImagesCal Ripken and other athletes, coaches and celebrities who have helped The Second Mile in the past could speak for the abused children.

Within a week, Ripken contacted The Second Mile and requested his name be removed from the honorary board of directors. So did Holtz, an ESPN analyst, and he answered questions about his appearance for the charity. Millen, who also works for ESPN, responded emotionally to the early reports. And Reid, the Philadelphia Eagles' coach, said he was "unaware" he was a member of the board, though the grand jury report mentioned on several occasions Sandusky taking kids to Eagles games. This by itself does not suggest that Reid was closely affiliated with the foundation, but the web of connections between a major college program to a prominent NFL team are obvious.

The Second Mile has removed the page with the names and dissolved the honorary board. It has also, in recent days, had defections by donors and regional board members in Pennsylvania.

In a sports institution that uses the cliché of "character building" as its oxygen, there is, in the courage department, a whole lot of suffocating going on these days. Ripken is currently in Japan working with children who suffered the devastation of the March earthquake and tsunami. He could use his power -- even while distancing himself from The Second Mile, if he chose -- to remind victims that whatever occurred was not their fault. Instead, he and the rest of those who keep silent have chosen to disassociate, to run for cover.

It is not the responsibility of the honorary board to clean up The Second Mile's mess. But these celebrities have no reason to be afraid. They built their names and reputations and they should use that power to speak to and for these kids. It is also unclear just how much actual contact Ripken and Reid, Palmer, Walhberg and others on this list have actually had with the foundation. But the victims of this catastrophe need support, open and public support in order to have at least an opportunity to fight the scourges of alcoholism, drug use and crime that afflict so many abuse victims. Lives are often broken following child sex abuse. Somewhere, whether it comes from a celebrity or from a local person or from a national leader (preferably all of the above), a concerted effort must be made to assist the alleged victims' healing, and that effort should come with considerably more energy, more passion and more conviction than it takes to wipe one's name off a website.

The corrosive, prolonged subtext to the Sandusky child sex abuse scandal is power and who it serves. What kept seemingly intelligent citizens from acting upon knowledge of inappropriate, potentially criminal behavior? The institutional and moral failures of Penn State, the football program, the local courts and The Second Mile reverberate across the country.

Penn State football and the university will dominate the conversation because the aura and financial power of football provide the fulcrum of scandal. The Second Mile likely will not survive. But that doesn't mean that the work is done. Now, more than ever, those who believed in and supported this charity have to speak up and act to fulfill their obligation to the victims and to children in need.

Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron," "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn.com.

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