I’m probably going to take a lot of heat for this opinion – it is clearly the unpopular view among critics – but let me go on record as saying the "Penn State Scandal" (the officially sponsored name of what the AP has recently dubbed the biggest sports story of 2011) is much-to-do about nothing.
Now, before you go labeling me as an enabler of child molestation, let me take a moment to clarify and put the well known disclaimer that every pro-Penn State apologist has been forced to preface his or her position with to avoid actually being confused with someone who supports child molestation. The allegations against Jerry Sandusky are horrific and disgusting. If true (despite popular belief, last I heard, there has yet to be a trial), Jerry Sandusky should be put away for life.
Now – disclaimer aside – it is the secondary story in this saga (which the press has confused rather purposefully as the lead story), which I take issue with. We have all been well exposed to it by now. Just about every tabloid from ESPN to the New York Post has written several opinions (disguised as investigative reports) on it, though with varying degrees of speculation and outrage. Essentially, the story is that Penn State and Joe Paterno either (a) engaged in some sort of conspiracy/cover-up of child molestation in its ranks or (2) failed their "moral obligation" to do more. It is these viewpoints that has taken what should have been seen as a serious social and humanitarian issue and transformed it into a sports story. While that is a serious enough deception and injustice created by the people we entrust to keep our society informed, what’s even worse than the transformation of this story is that the sports story (for as much venom as has been spewed toward Paterno and Penn State) is really no story at all. Simply put, there is no conspiracy; there has been no cover-up; and there was no lapse of moral judgment by Joe Paterno or the University.
Now, do I know that with 100% certainty? Well, no. But that has certainly not stopped the media from inoculating the public with the converse position, as if it were gospel, and destroying the lives of several formerly respected individuals and the reputation of one of the most reputable colleges in this country. And my position is backed by much more evidence than the media ever cared to know.
For fun – let’s pretend that we as humans are capable of using facts and logic (rather than torches and pitchforks) to reach educated determinations and opinions (for have we not learned anything from the Duke Lacrosse Scandal). The entire case against Penn State boils down to a single incident in 2002 where a graduate assistant (now assistant coach), Michael McQueary, allegedly saw something happen in a shower between Jerry Sandusky and a child and later reported that incident to Joe Paterno. The incomplete "facts" (there has been no trial, no cross-examination and none of the morally or legally accused have even given their full and complete statements) as borne out by the testimony of Mr. McQueary and the perfunctory grand jury testimony of Joe Paterno, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, demonstrates the following:
1. In 2002, Mr. McQueary saw something which he claims was inappropriate and of a "sexual nature" occur in the showers of an on-campus athletic building between Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coach at Penn State (at the time retired for 3 years from the football program), and a 10 to 12 year old boy (though the age was admittedly a guess)
2. Mr. McQueary cannot recall exactly what was happening with any precise detail (in fact the whole event was only a matter of seconds and mostly viewed through a mirror), although he recalls that Sandusky’s and the boy’s body were as close as they could be and he had the impression that it was intercourse (although he confirms he did not see anyone’s genitals nor penetration and did not hear screaming)
3. Mr. McQueary does little to intervene other than slamming a locker door (which he claims was sufficient to stop the incident)
4. Rather than call police, he calls his father, goes home and tells his story to both his father and a family friend – Dr. Dranov – whose advice is also not to go to the police but to go to Joe Paterno
5. Dr. Dranov also alleges – by way of several news outlets – that Mr. McQueary never conveyed that the incident was sexual in nature (Dr. Dranov recalls asking him this question 3 times – each time the answer was no)
6. On his father’s advice, McQueary reports an allegedly sanitized version of what happened to his superior, Joe Paterno. McQueary alleges that he never used the words anal intercourse or sodomy but simply conveyed that it was sexual in nature
7. Again, after hearing this allegedly disturbing information, Joe Paterno apparently waits a day and reports what McQueary told him to Tim Curley (the athletic director and Paterno’s boss) and later to Gary Schultz, the Senior VP of Finance and Business Administration and head of campus police – dispelling the once popular media slant that the police were never notified
8. About nine or ten days later, McQueary repeats his story (allegedly the non-sanitized version) to both Curley and Schultz. Again, McQueary cannot recall with precise detail exactly what words he used (and he claims again that he didn’t use sodomy or anal intercourse), but he is certain that he conveyed it was extreme sexual acts
9. After these separate meetings with both Paterno and McQueary, Curley and Schultz apparently do some internal investigation (the extent of which is still under debate), including interviewing Sandusky, reporting the incident to Graham Spanier (the president) and possibly reporting to the Second Mile charity, but the investigation apparently dies a quick death with essentially a slap on the wrist and some unenforceable limitations placed on Sandusky with regard to children in Penn State facilities
10. Neither Dranov, Schultz, Curley or Paterno allege that McQueary said anything that would rise to the level of a crime -- simply varying forms of unclear inappropriate conduct (ranging from possibly horsing around to fondling. Further adding to this confusion McQueary also alleges at page 75 of the transcript that he is sure that he used the word "fondling" when reporting the incident to Paterno, but when later asked if he saw fondling, answered "no," leading one to believe that what he reported differed from what he witnessed).
That’s it. Those are all the relevant facts that we currently have. No recollection of exactly what was happening in that shower. No recollection of precisely what was reported to Paterno, Curley or Schultz (in fact, McQueary alleges at page 102 of the transcript of the preliminary hearing that "it's clear that [he] can't remember the actual words that [he] used"). No testimony concerning what Paterno did or did not do after his meeting with McQueary and later with Curley and Schultz. And no corroborating testimony whatsoever that would lead anyone outside of McQueary to believe a crime was, in fact, committed in that shower and then reported as such. In fact, if McQueary, as he alleges, didn't use the words rape, anal intercourse, sodomy or crime, says he didn't see the touching of any genitals or any penetration, one has to wonder what was said to Paterno, Curley and Schultz to convey that it was of a sexual nature.
And let’s remember that this event happened 10 years ago. Yes – it was surely a potentially explosive incident that would likely leave a lasting impression, but can anyone really claim that they would remember exactly what was or was not said in a ten minute meeting that took place 10 years ago? At approximately 9:00 a.m. on 9/11, by way of imperfect analogy, I rose from the Fulton Street subway station and looked up to see the World Trade Center on fire. I vividly recall the second plane hitting the tower, the panic that engulfed the streets, the sounds of the towers collapsing as I continued to run north on Broadway. I remember calling my wife from my cell phone. Could I tell you precisely what I said? I could imagine what I must have said, but, as explosive as that situation was, I simply don’t have that sort of recall. I certainly couldn’t imagine staking anyone’s lives or reputations on precisely what I may or may not have said, or worse, conveyed. Is it also possible that, after 10 years of reflection and understanding, that my report today of those events would have more clarity and sense of gravity than in the confusion of the moment?
Now, given the foregoing - is it more likely a conspiracy and cover-up of a university, it's president, head of campus police, a charitable organization, legendary coach and an unaffiliated third party doctor, or that perhaps McQueary was a bit more vague in those meetings (or down-played the events more) than he is now letting on? Or even more likely that Mr. McQueary’s memory of these 10-year old events is flawed? Of course, if we adopt the later position – it’s not the best sports story of the year.
What is that you say? What if I’m wrong? Maybe. I doubt it. There are simply too many lapses (in time, memory and opportunity) and too much flawed logic to believe there was even an unintentional cover-up. But if I am, I have harmed no one; I have ruined nobody’s career. The accused will still likely face justice. That is the essence and beauty of our country’s presumption of innocence until proven guilty. A fundamental tenet of our justice system that the uneducated, vengeful or merely reckless believe should not extend beyond the courtroom.
Perhaps – more importantly – that is the question that the media should have asked before taking its scorched earth campaign to an 85 year old coach who instilled in generations of players and students the value of living a moral and educated life and doing things the right way – even if it was the harder path. Perhaps that is the question everyone who has rushed to judgment, abandoned those values, and accused these individuals (either morally or legally) should ask. For, if they are wrong, the damage cannot be undone. And that won’t be much-to-do about nothing.