Sunday, July 22, 2012

Why Penn State Should Suspend Its Football Program

Coach Joe Paterno with players


If you live in the United States or you’re even remotely in tune with the news in the country, you’ve likely heard of the scandal at Pennsylvania State University. In late 2011, former Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, was charged with 48 counts of sexual abuse of boys of different ages. In June 2012, he was found guilty on 45 of the 48 counts and faces a lengthy prison sentence, one which will be handed down in September 2012.

Before we go further, let me give you a “heads up:” this post is somewhat lengthier than a typical one that I write on this blog. The reason is that I think it’s important to first share some background information on the case and how things have progressed to this point, in the event that you’re not familiar with it. I’ll first lay out the facts and then share why I have come to the conclusion that the program should be temporarily suspended.
Sandusky coached at Penn State for a 30 year period beginning in 1969. During his tenure, he was quite successful working alongside legendary coach Joe Paterno to lead the Nittany Lions’ football program to multiple winning seasons and bowl appearances. Their team won the national championship twice in the 1980s.
In 1977, Sandusky founded The Second Mile, a Pennsylvania non-profit organization serving underprivileged and at-risk youth. In 1998, he came under investigation by the campus police, following a claim by a mother that her son had been molested by him in the showers on campus. He officially retired shortly after this investigation, and was awarded "both an unusual compensation package and a special designation of 'emeritus' rank that carried special privileges, including access to the university’s recreational facilities."

After retirement, Sandusky hosted many summer football camps and was active in The Second Mile. On November 4, 2011, a grand jury that had been convened in 2009, indicted him on 40 counts of sex crimes against young boys. The indictment came after a lengthy investigation that explored allegations of him having inappropriate contact with an underage boy over the course of four years, beginning when the boy was ten years old. The boy's parents reported the incident to police in 2009. The grand jury identified eight boys that had been singled out for sexual advances or sexual assaults by him, taking place from 1994 through 2009. At least 20 of the incidents allegedly took place while he was still employed at Penn State.

In December 2011, Sandusky was charged with an additional 12 counts of sexual crimes against children, bringing the total number of counts to 52. Four of these counts were later dropped. The grand jury's second presentment charged him with an additional count of involuntary deviant sexual intercourse and two additional counts of unlawful contact with a minor. The additional victims were participants in The Second Mile and were between the ages of 10 and 12 at the time of the sexual assaults.

Jerry Sandusky under arrest

Now the story has come to the surface and the public has learned about the shameful acts that occurred at Penn State. It’s certainly a “black-eye” on one of the most prestigious, respected universities in the country, if not the world. It’s known not only for its elite football program but also for its academics. Yet despite repeated claims by different victims and eyewitness accounts of what was happening, the“powers that be” at the University opted to, in effect, give Sandusky a license to carry out his crimes against children with little or no consequence.

In early July 2012, the report by a special investigative council headed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh was released. The report states that four “of the most powerful people" at Penn State "failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.” The four were: Coach Joe Paterno, Athletic Director Tim Curley, Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz (who oversaw the Penn State police department), and former University President Graham Spanier.

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh
The Freeh report states that by allowing Sandusky to retire in 1999 as a “valued member of the Penn State football legacy,” he was allowed to continue to sexually abuse without interference. Through being able to leverage the "visibility of Penn State, combined with his ability 'to continue to work with young people through Penn State'", he was essentially facilitated in being able to continue with his core method of “grooming" boys as "targets for his assaults”.

Upon Sandusky retiring in 1999, no restrictions were placed upon him continuing to bring boys to the showers on campus. Freeh's report is very specific on this matter: Paterno, Curley, Schultz, and Spanier "empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access to the University's facilities and affiliation with the university's prominent football program. Indeed, the continued access provided Sandusky with the very currency that enabled him to attract his victims".

I know very little about Penn State personally. I only know of their storied football program and its reputation for excellence. Paterno’s coaching tenure at the university began in 1950 and he became head coach in 1966. In late 2011, shortly after the story broke, he was fired for knowledge of, and lack of participation in stopping, Sandusky’s actions. Shortly after his firing, he was diagnosed with cancer and died in only a matter of months, in January 2012.Some say that “Joe Pa,” as he was affectionately called, was Penn State. The names were – and to a certain degree, still are – synonymous.

Ok, so here’s the point of this post. Until now, I have tried to present the facts as they are known. For the remainder of this writing, I will share my opinion on just what I believe should happen going forward. Considering all that has occurred in this case, in an effort to rebuild the public trust, Penn State should temporarily suspend its football program. This is more than football – it’s a human tragedy. So I think that, in the process of restoring the integrity of its program, it should “call timeout” and then take its program in a new direction.

You may or may not agree with my approach and either way, it’s fine. Just so that you understand the reason for my conclusion on this matter, let me share with you my perspective. As you may have read on this blog, I am the father of 2 children – a teen daughter and a son who’s almost 2. I went through a divorce 10 years ago and I got a dose of reality about what the family law system often does to the relationship between dads and their kids. This experience caused me to develop a heart of compassion for the innocent children all over the world who are effectively abandoned by their dads – particularly when marriages and other relationships fail.

I decided, after my own plight, to dedicate my life to the cause of children. I guess the best term that could be used to describe me in this campaign is a child advocate. I wrote the post Diary of a Child Advocate to share the reason for my passionate support of children. See also the post Spotlight on Child Abuse. So with this campaign in mind, I started the Upbeat Dad Organization, not so much for fathers but for the innocent children who they help to bring into this world.

The Carpenters sang, “Bless the beasts and the children; for in this world they have no voice, they have no choice.” That is certainly true. I believe that our most vulnerable citizens are children. They come into the world through no choice of their own. And throughout their childhood, decisions are made by adults on their behalf that are totally out of their control. If the decisions are to their detriment, then they are powerless to stop them. In all of this, although I’m a father, I do not side only with fathers – or with mothers. I try to side with the children, the ones who have no voice.

So with this as the backdrop, here comes Jerry Sandusky. He has a non-profit organization through which he helps at-risk and underprivileged children. He becomes a mentor and a hero to them – a father-figure, if you will. He develops bonds with them and they trust him fully. We’re not talking about the stereotypical molester lurking in the woods awaiting an unsuspecting potential victim. We’re talking about a respected citizen - a married man and a retired football coach with 6 adopted children and several foster children. On the surface, he’s someone who parents would love to have their children around.

Then this same Jerry Sandusky is the one who used his position of authority in the lives of many boys to sexually, psychologically and emotionally abuse them. He used his non-profit entity as a means of access to these boys and then he took pleasure in their sexual exploitation on Penn State’s campus. Some have used the words “monster” or “evil” to describe him and based on his actions, it’s hard to argue against that.

Now, some might argue that those crimes were committed by Sandusky alone and he is getting his just reward – life behind bars. Why then would some advocate, as I do, that the university should suspend football? Joe Paterno and other officials didn’t molest the boys – it was Sandusky alone. Well, this is where I make my strongest point. These officials represent the university and its football program. They knew that a pedophile was in their midst. All of this is factual, based on the evidence presented in the court case and in the Freeh report. Conversations took place; emails and other correspondence about the criminal behavior went back and forth. Yet nothing of any consequence was done to stop it.

Did you know that in most – if not all – states in the US, a sex offender is required to be registered in the city where (s)he lives? Such individuals cannot just live where they want to or go anywhere they please. They are known to be a threat to the safety of the general public, and thus, their movements must be monitored. In no case can a known sexual predator – especially a pedophile – have unlimited access to little children. Yet school officials knew that a sexual predator with a liking for boys was in their midst – using the school’s facilities for his awful acts and they chose to “look the other way.” And as they did, more and more boys were victimized. 

Why would the Paterno and company take such a stance? Why would they remain silent while the young, vulnerable children suffered? Why would the claims of the victims be repeatedly overlooked? It doesn’t make much sense, does it? Well, based on the Freeh report, it appears that a calculated decision was made to keep silent and deal with the matter internally. One suggestion, based on the report, was that Sandusky should get counseling. They wanted to ensure that he was treated humanely. So they wanted humane treatment for him while he continued his inhumane acts. How disturbing!  

In the eyes of the officials, the reputation of the school and its football program were at jeopardy if Sandusky was to be revealed as a pedophile. Certainly the university could stand to lose millions. “How so,” you might ask? Well, for starters, potential recruits might not commit to play their collegiate career at an institution where such a scandal could take place. Especially as the years went on, the potential fallout from such a revelation could have been huge. Sanctions could have been imposed and officials fired. The negative publicity could have been a long-lasting stain on the reputation of a respected institution.

So, in the years of silence – at least 14 – Penn State football continued. In those years, the program prospered. They made bowl appearances. Paterno continued his legendary tenure, becoming more of an icon with each passing day. A statue was even erected in his honor in front of the football stadium. Penn State football maintained its glamorous image without the stain of a child sex scandal – making millions in the process.

Sandusky after Alamo Bowl victory in 1999
It is quite evident that the school officials, through their actions, put money and reputation ahead of the interests of the innocent children that they knew Sandusky was harming. He was the criminal but, by their willful silence, they effectively became accessories to the crimes. By “sweeping the problem under the rug,” the awful behavior by the pedophile continued for well over a decade.

Now the scandal that they sought to avoid has caused them to become a national disgrace. Sandusky faces a maximum sentence of 442 years in prison and a minimum of 60 years under Pennsylvania sentencing guidelines - at his age, effectively a life sentence. The legendary Joe Paterno was fired in disgrace, and unfortunately died in the midst of the criminal proceedings. Other school officials have either been fired or have resigned.  

Famous alumni such as Todd Blackledge, Franco Harris and Matt Millen have come forward to condemn the actions by the university. And with the conviction of Sandusky and the release of the Freeh Report, the institution now has a permanent stain on its once impeccable reputation. Some argue that it’s the worst scandal in the history of US sports. That might very well be a true assessment.  

I just think that with all that occurred – particularly the lack of institutional control – the school should suffer the consequences of its actions. As the victims continue to heal and the school begins the process of trying to regain the public’s trust, I believe that Penn State football should take the bold step of suspending its football program for at least one or two seasons. That, in my view, will demonstrate the school’s commitment to rectify the obvious lack of good judgment that so many of its representatives displayed. 

Statue of Paterno
The university has already begun to implement various measures to signify its commitment to restore its reputation. Most recently – this morning, in fact - current university President Rodney Erickson announced the removal of the 900 lb statue of Paterno outside of the football stadium on campus. In a statement, he wrote, "I now believe that, contrary to its original intention, Coach Paterno's statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our university and beyond. For that reason, I have decided that it is in the best interest of our university and public safety to remove the statue…" He added that, had the statue remained in its current location, it would “be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse."

I applaud such efforts by the institution to try to regain the public’s trust. Children were abused for many years under their watch. More will need to be done over time in order for Penn State to once again be synonymous with excellence and integrity.

The best thing that any adult can do for a child is to protect his or her best interest. As grownups, we have the responsibility to care for and nurture those within our care. We ought to not only say these words but to live them out in our actions. I am disappointed in Sandusky’s behavior but I’m more disappointed in the other officials who did nothing of consequence to protect the innocent, vulnerable ones.

In the grand scheme of things, football is of very little importance. Children are precious gifts to us and they deserve our very best. So, for this reason, I believe Penn State should do the honorable thing and demonstrate their commitment to these ones who “have no voice.”

I’m just one person with an opinion. Will this plea get to the ears of the “powers that be” at the university? Who knows? But I hope that as you’ve read this, it has caused you to become more aware of the responsibility that we all share to protect children. You or I may not be at Penn State but we live in our own neighborhoods; we go to the parks, to the malls and to different places of worship. We can be advocates for children within our own sphere of influence.

Let us commit to being the caretakers of those who will one day lead the world long after you and I are gone. It’s a noble calling to intercede for these innocent ones in our midst. In so doing, we will help to ensure that something as awful as what occurred at Penn State will never occur again.

I welcome your thoughts on what I’ve shared. I don’t expect that every reader will agree with my recommendation. I do, however, hope that you would understand my perspective and, at a minimum, agree with me that we owe it to all children to always look out for their best interest. Remember, “they have no voice; they have no choice,” so it’s up to us to do what’s right on their behalf. Only our very best is good enough.

Keep these thoughts in mind as you enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad

ADDENDUM (Tuesday, July 24, 2012)

Less than 24 hours after this article was written and posted, the NCAA handed down unprecedented sanctions against Penn State for its role in the child abuse scandal. I thought I’d add the following addendum to this blog post to bring it to a fitting conclusion:

NCAA President, Mark Emmert
On Monday, July 23, 2012, the NCAA hit Penn State with a $60 million sanction, a four-year football postseason ban and a vacation of all wins dating to 1998. The career record of Joe Paterno will reflect these vacated records, dropping him from 409 wins to 298 and making him now 12th in all time wins among NCAA football coaches. He was previously 1st.

The university also will have six bowl wins and two conference championships erased and also must reduce 10 initial and 20 total scholarships each year for a four-year period. The athletic program also will be put on a five-year probation and must work with an athletic-integrity monitor of the NCAA's choosing. Any current or incoming football players are free to immediately transfer and compete at another school.

The NCAA said the $60 million was equivalent to the average annual revenue of the football program. It also ordered Penn State to pay the penalty funds into an endowment for "external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at the university. NCAA president Mark Emmert said, "In the Penn State case, the results were perverse and unconscionable. No price the NCAA can levy will repair the grievous damage inflicted by Jerry Sandusky on his victims."

Rodney Erickson, Penn State President
Penn State president Rodney Erickson said, "We had our backs to the wall on this." He said the school accepted the penalties to avoid the so-called "death penalty" that could have resulted in the suspension of the football program for at least one year. "We did what we thought was necessary to save the program."

In this post, I called for Penn State to do something radical to turn the page from this dark chapter and move forward. As it turns out, they didn’t opt to suspend their football program; instead, the NCAA has implemented penalties that are likely far worse than a self-imposed 1 or 2 year suspension. According to many experts, it will likely be 5 to 10 years before Penn State could possibly return to the ranks of elite football programs.

I believe that these severe sanctions have sent a strong message and will accomplish the purpose for which I wrote this article. Penn State prospered for over a decade while trusting, vulnerable children were traumatized by the horrible acts. I applaud NCAA leadership for being the “voice” for these children. Erickson said, "The tragedy of child sexual abuse that occurred at our university altered the lives of innocent children. Today, as every day, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the victims of Mr. Sandusky and all other victims of child abuse."

Let’s hope that, from this very public case, the message sent will not only change the culture at Penn State that allowed child abuse to occur but also any place where this issue exists. Children are wonderful and precious gifts and they deserve to live at peace in this world, without fear of being powerless victims who “have no voice.”


  1. Error in fact regarding 1998 events. There were no contemporary allegations of molestation. The mother who initiated the investigation was unsure whether she was making too much of the fact that sanusky had showered with her son. There were no allegations, in 1998, that Any sexual touching or contact had occured. See the freeh report of those events, pgs 41 or thereabouts, i think.

  2. 1998 investigation also involved town police and state department of public welfare. County child protective agency was notified, county DAs office was involved.

  3. There is no evidene in the freeh report that powers that be at penn state were aware of "repeated claims" and multiple victims, of sexual abuse. They were, according to the report, aware of the 2001 eye witness report of a single victim.

    This is not an attempt to exonerate their actions. But in as much as you have based your opinion of the what the extent of penalty should be on, apparently, a misread of the facts in the report, perhaps you might be wrong about that extent as well.

    1. I was gonna write that guy off as just another Penn State nutjob. But for what it's worth after reading the report everything he says is true as far as the report goes.