A West Coast Perspective on the Jerry Sandusky Scandal

I have never been the type of person to join/read blogs until the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke out. But November 5, 2011 changed my outlook on life -- that day will be forever etched in my memory bank as the worst day in the history for Nittany Lion fans -- Jerry Sandusky ruined the lives of not only the victims, the victims' families, but Joe Paterno's, his family, his fans, and countless other good people at both PSU and Second Mile Foundation. Since this date, I have spent more time reading everything on the Internet on this topic (and am especially grateful to have discovered BSD). The Sandusky scandal has hit very close to home because as a little kid growing up in Central, PA, some of my fondest childhood memories were spent attending football games with my parents and/or watching the Lions on TV. That is why when the grand jury indictment news broke out, it felt like the loss of my childhood innocence.

As an adult, I am one of millions of transplants here in Southern, CA. The topic I want to raise is people's perception of the scandal outside of Central, PA. First, a note of disclaimer -- the discussions I have exchanged with the people at my office is a very small sampling, and hardly representative of the general population. When the scandal broke out, most of the publicity here in the West Coast has hardly been favorable to PSU, and especially hard on Joe Paterno. The LA Times wrote scathing articles about Joe Paterno's complicity in covering up the sex scandal (authored by the hack, Bill Plaschke, who makes Dan Bernstein of CBS resemble a human being); there have been cries for PSU's football death penalty/NCAA sanctions (mostly from USC alums), and moral outrage that PSU’s worship of Joe Paterno lead to the sex scandal.

At my office, when the news first broke in November, some of my co-workers have attempted to be respectful, and would chime in "hell, Joe won 409 games, and now everyone's asking, 'what has he done for us lately? He deserved better treatment.'" However, after the disastrous Bob Costas interview with Jerry Sandusky, ironically, some of these same co-workers channeled their anger on Joe Paterno, and not Jerry Sandusky. When I defended Joe, they would take Barry Switzer like jabs at me: “C’mon…Joe worked with him for 30 years, how could he not know?” Some of my other co-workers have accused me of being one of Joe's clueless disciples defending his actions. I have felt that the cosmic force "hubris" was taunting me because of the number of times I have bragged about Joe Paterno's grand experiment, touting his relative scandal free record and graduating his players...maybe this was payback for loving my childhood team so much.

Admittedly, I have turned to BSD because I literally felt shell shocked from the vitriol I have received at my office. The past two months have been hell for me because a football program and iconic coach I loved was mired in the most heinous scandal in sports history. Wherever I turned (i.e., ESPN, AP, NPR, Yahoo, Fox/NBC/CBS/ABC Sports, SI) there would be one damaging article after another -- the face of the scandal became Joe Paterno and PSU. I have experienced the burning pit in my stomach and cried more than I care to admit. I cried when I heard the announcement of Joe Paterno's retirement, then quickly became outraged when he was fired (and the manner in which he was fired). I cried watching the moment of silence and prayer during the Nebraska/Penn State game (in my mind, the most poignant sports moment in history). I cried and punched the air in exuberation when Penn State defeated Ohio State -- I kept shouting back at the TV at the conclusion of the game: "we are Penn State, we are Penn State!" I think I have scared both my husband (who is a USC alum) and my two kids (they think Mommy has finally lost it, especially after I made them bust out and don all their Penn State gear these past months) with the level of devotion (some might say, obsession) to PSU football.

However, most of the feelings I have primarily experienced is the feeling of helplessness these past months. I have felt absolutely powerless in my ability to stop the negative publicity except to make comments correcting people's interpretation of the grand jury indictment and subsequent preliminary hearing. I've talked nonstop to correct my co-worker's perception of the scandal, but have come to the sad realization that most of them could care less about the truth -- they were simply happy that it wasn't their university receiving the brunt of the negative news. I also realized that the people who wished the death penalty for PSU's football program did not care really about the victims or their families -- they were more in support of their own universities' football programs and wanted the BIG 10 to stop poaching prospective PAC 12 recruits.

Coming back to my topic, I would like to know if other Nittany Lion fans outside of Central, PA are receiving and/or perceiving similar treatment/perspective on the scandal. I ask because my parents, who still remain in Central, PA, are receiving a different type of news from the Harrisburg Patriot news; and it's obviously not the same sensationalized news I am receiving here in Southern, CA. My mom explained to me that after Joe Paterno was fired, the face of the scandal was Jerry Sandusky (some of her peers even blamed Governor Corbett and PSU Board of Trustees), and not Joe Paterno and/or Penn State. She said most of her contemporaries believe that Joe Paterno handled the 2002 shower incident correctly, and that since Joe was raised as a conservative Catholic, they would not expect him to ask graphic details of Mike McQueary as to what he observed. They also did not expect Joe Paterno to confront Jerry Sandusky after 2002 and feel that Joe taking the McQueary news up the chain of command absolved him of both his legal and moral obligations. She explained to me that in PA, there's a statute that prevents people from breaking the chain of command when reporting child abuse (her explanation as for why Joe Paterno did not go straight to State College police).

My sister, who has since relocated to Tampa Bay, Florida, has mostly experienced negative, sensationalized stories from her local papers, and the Floridians' perspective on the scandal is similar to Bobby Bowden's perspective: "why did Joe Paterno never confront Jerry Sandusky after the 2002 shower incident? As the head coach, it was his duty to protect the innocent boy in the shower." She told me she was in severe depression for two weeks because most people at her office believed that Joe should have known about Jerry Sandusky's propensity to rape young children as early as 1998. She said some of the negative comments were too much, and she finally had to let people know that she was originally from Central, PA, and that their comments on Joe Paterno's role as a child rapist enabler offended her. Since then, her co-workers have laid off on broaching any topic related to Penn State and she told me that most people have stopped talking about Penn State altogether (except when Jerry Sandusky was in the news again with his "hygiene defense.")

I would also like to hear other BSD members feelings on Joe's legacy -- whether he will be exonerated/vindicated in the near future (funny to use these terms considering he has never been accused of a crime). Would Joe's legacy be similar to that of John Wooden (a coach who is revered in Southern, CA)? The folks here are fortunate that their legendary coach's reputation remains intact, and that his family, former players, and fans can forever bask in his scandal free legacy. In my humble opinion, even if we discover that Joe took all the necessary steps to prevent Jerry Sandusky from harming little kids, most people, (perhaps outside of Central, PA), would not remember Joe for all the good he has done for the football program, his former players, and for Penn State University overall.

However, I am still holding out for a different ending to all this. John Wooden can have his fairy tale ending, but I think Joe Paterno will eventually have the Hollywood ending. There might be a movie (who would want to watch a movie of a perfect, noncontroversial figure?) of Joe Paterno when before, there wasn't a story. As many of you know, Hollywood loves to tear an icon down, and build them up again. I hope though by the time Hollywood comes calling, we here in Southern, CA, can catch up to Central, PA, and get the facts/evidence straight, and properly honor Joe Paterno for being a flawed man who probably did the best he could in both life and football.

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