How the Penn State Scandal Affected Me
Anyone who knows me knows that I am an absolute sports nut and the only thing that rivals my love of baseball is my love of college football. When it comes to college athletics, I am a die-hard Michigan State fan and therefore a supporter of the Big 10 conference as a whole. So when a grand jury report was released on November 4th, 2011 stating that former Penn State defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, allegedly sexually abused eight young boys over a 15 year period, I immediately felt sick to my stomach. Every day, it seems like there is a new NCAA violation being reported but this situation goes far beyond your typical recruiting violation. This situation is absolutely horrifying and when I heard the news, my heart absolutely broke for the victims and their families. From the initial report, there were eight victims but as more individuals came forward, I also heard 10. 26. 30. I mean, how many lives did this one man ruin? I can tell you right now that Jerry Sandusky didn't just ruin eight lives. Or 10. Or 26. Or even 30. When someone is sexually molested or abused, it affects the victim and their entire family. While the victim is obviously the one having to deal with the physical and emotional trauma of being violated, the family members are angry with both the perpetrator and themselves for missing the signs that something was wrong.
Ever since the story broke eight years ago, I have had so many emotions and thoughts about it but never had an outlet to express them until now. I mean, how could this go on for so many years and yet nothing happen to Jerry Sandusky? Because I was sexually molested for seven years and refused to talk to anyone about it, no one had any clue that anything was wrong. Therefore, I would be able to understand more so if the same were true with the victims in this situation. However, that didn't really seem to be the case because people knew. Former head coach Joe Paterno knew. Former university president Graham Spanier knew. Former athletic director Tim Curley knew. Former university senior vice president of business and finance Gary Schultz knew. Plus others, I'm sure. Yet no one took the time to do anything to try and stop it.
To this day, I still remember when longtime and beloved head coach Joe Paterno was fired, which was five days after the grand jury report was released. Paterno previously mentioned that he was planning to retire once the 2011 season was over but the Penn State trustees had other ideas and in my mind, that was one thing Penn State did right in all of this. Don't get me wrong, Joe Paterno was a great head coach but if Paterno did in fact know about the allegations against his former defensive coordinator as many seem to believe he did, he didn't deserve the right to go out on his own terms, at least in my opinion. However, don't tell that to the students and members of the community, who started rioting and burning couches on campus as soon as the news was released that Paterno was relieved of his duties.
I'm not trying to clump every single Penn State supporter into one group because that certainly wouldn't be fair or right but when everything came to light, I remember seeing an abundance of comments that didn't give one thought to any of the victims. In fact, many of the comments came from individuals who only seemed to wonder how Penn State would ever have a shot at winning a Big 10 championship without Paterno at the helm. Maybe it's because the individuals making those comments didn't understand the magnitude of the situation or maybe it's because I know the horror of what the victims went through but sometimes, there are situations that are just bigger than the game and this is one of those instances. Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz all had a responsibility to ensure that Penn State's campus was safe and they failed. Instead, the four of them looked the other way, enabled a child molester and acted as if nothing happened. As a result, they all eventually paid the price by being fired or resigning from their respective positions.
A few months following the grand jury report being released, I accepted a job in the ticket sales department at Purdue University (another Big 10 school) and I can't even begin to tell you how often my co-workers brought up the scandal at Penn State. So many times, I'd hear "Can you believe what's happening at Penn State?" Or "I can't imagine what the victims must be going through or what it's been like for them." When I heard comments being made, it was on the tip of my tongue to just let it out and say, "I know what the victims are going through and what it's been like because I went through it too. They feel like their childhood was taken away from them. They feel like it was their fault. They feel different than their friends and feel that they have to act as if nothing is wrong." However, I never said any of that because I wasn't ready to share my secret with practical strangers so I stayed quiet and just listened to what everyone else had to say.
On June 22nd, 2012, Jerry Sandusky was found guilty on 45 charges including (but not limited to) endangering the welfare of children, assault and corruption of minors and was later sentenced to 30-60 years in prison. I was glad that justice was finally being served for the victims and their families, even though it felt like it was years too late. About a month later on July 23rd, the NCAA mentioned that they would be handing down a punishment of their own that afternoon in relation to the scandal but when the punishment was finally released, I can honestly say that I was dumbfounded and flabbergasted. Listed below are the elements of the punishment that the NCAA announced....
Penn State would be fined $60 million
Penn State's football team would be banned from appearing in any postseason bowl game (lifted in 2014)
Penn State football would lose 20 scholarships a year for four (4) seasons (lifted in 2014)
Penn State's 111 wins from 1998 - 2011 would be vacated (they were later reinstated)
I'm sorry, but what? Every one of those punishments (with the exception of the fine) punished the players on the football team who did absolutely nothing wrong instead of the coaching staff and other members of the athletic program that supposedly knew what Jerry Sandusky was doing. How is banning the football players from a postseason bowl game punishing the adults who were the actual individuals at fault? Also, can someone explain to me what the point of vacating wins is? Each and every fall, Penn State has a schedule that they play and they either win or they lose.The 111 games they won were already decided upon; the results don't magically vanish simply because the NCAA says so.
The Penn State scandal is on my mind a lot, especially around this time of year when the football season is about to kick off. I can't imagine what it's like to be a victim in a high profile case such as this one and to have all of the information splashed on the front page of newspapers and the internet but I hope the victims and their families are at least somewhat at peace knowing Jerry Sandusky can't hurt anyone outside prison ever again.
*All factual information such as dates, charges to Jerry Sandusky and the NCAA fines were taken from CNN's Library Fast Facts.