Down In the Valley I: Penn State – What Did They Know and When Did They Know it

Submitted By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

Who Are Penn State?

That ultimate question uttered by Senator Howard Baker encapsulated the Watergate Era as Congress grappled with assessing culpability of President Richard Nixon, who was then at the zenith of his presidency. Now almost forty years later, the nation is again captured by a fall from grace as steep and as fast as Nixon’s. And again that question has to be asked of “America’s Football Coach.”

While I’m certainly no Woodward or Bernstein, it seems my blog post about the expanding scandal has reached  some folks in Pennsylvania with  knowledge about the inner workings of  the institution of Penn State Football and about the characters involved. One reached out to me with disturbing questions and a “theory” that has the distinct ring of truth. Here’s the version:

It’s 1999, and you’ve just been handed the American Football Coaches Association’s Assistant Football Coach of the Year award. The son of hard-working second generation Polish immigrants from Western Pennsylvania’s coal region, you graduated first in your class at Penn State after starting on the football team for three years. You’re coaching at your alma mater in a profession known as much for long hours, low pay, and eating its young as for being carried off the field in victory. Oh, you’ve had your share of shoulder pad rides, too. First, when you held everybody’s All-American (and arguably the finest player to ever play college football), Georgia’s Hershel Walker to 3.2 yeards per carry in the 1982 national title game. Then again in 1987 when your protegés intercepted Heisman Trophy winner, Vinny Testaverde, five times, in one of the sports most improbable victories over the heavily favored bad boy of American athletics, the infamous fatigue-wearing Miami Hurricanes, and in so doing vindicated the Nittany Lions’  hoary motto of  “Victory with Honor.”

It’s your dream job and you’re coaching with one of the true legends of the profession. Your mentor is in his mid-70’s and you’ve been proclaimed his heir apparent by everyone who would listen. You’ve been approached by several schools to coach their floundering teams, including the University of Maryland, and even made the perfunctory rounds of interviews at places like the University of Virginia. You’ve produced 10 consensus All-Americans including NFL Hall of Famer, Jack Ham. You’ve been at your job for 20 years, and you’ve gained the respect of colleagues, peers, and the public alike for your charitable work and well-publicized interest in helping disadvantaged kids through a charity you founded. At age 55, you’re making good money — for an assistant coach — but a head coaching job would earn you ten times as much and give your family of six adopted kids and a devoted wife financial security. You’ve even written the definitive book on your area of expertise which you generously entitle, “Developing Linebackers the Penn State Way.” In short, you’re hot in your profession and uniquely poised to either succeed the legend or take one of the plum coaching  jobs in America’s football pantheon. You know, the Notre Dames, Michigans, or Southern Cal’s of the world.

With all this professional and financial potential, what do you do? Well you retire, of course. You set yourself on a path of summer football camps, and chicken-dinner speeches with appearance fees earning roughly two-thirds of what you’ve made and orders of magnitude less that what you could make. You throw yourself into charity work from whence you derive some income and you rely on the largesse of a town where you preside as a demigod. But there are rumors.

In 1998, you’ve been investigated for “inappropriate” conduct with a minor. The mother of the child sets you up in sting operation where a detective hiding in a closet overhears you say, ” “I understand. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.”  Luckily, the DA in charge of the case rules the matter “unfounded,” declines to prosecute, and thankfully later winds up missing after a 60 mile pleasure ride. You’ve dodged a bullet. Yet, you resign just under a year later.

Joe Paterno has claimed ignorance of the 1998 episode, but according to a person who contacted me, that’s highly questionable. State College, Pa is a 40,000 person enclave devoted to Joe Paterno and Penn State — in that order. Hell, there’s a bronze statue of the man in the middle of campus replete with those thick, black glasses; William Penn just gets some pages on the Paterno Library book shelves. Located in the largely unpopulated heart of Pennsylvania, the town was little more than an encampment when Joe Paterno arrived in 1950 with another icon of Pennsylvania’s venerable football coaching priesthood, Rip Engle. Engle, who was paranoid of losing even against vastly inferior teams, inculcated his charge with the notion that a coach must exercise iron-fisted rule over his program, and to borrow a modern bromide, “what happens inside the program, stays inside the program.” Brown University graduate, Joe Paterno was a good student to his football teacher, and when he took over for Engle in 1966 he inherited a strong football program and a town enamored of it.

Football coaches call their profession a “brotherhood.” Almost exclusively male and established as a true hierarchy, the work is exhausting as every aspect of the opponent must be broken down, scrutinized, and prepared for as if for a sea-borne military invasion. It’s overkill sure, but the adherents love the challenge and, most of all, the camaraderie in pursuit of the challenge.  It harkens back to a time of face-painted men pledging their lives around a camp fire to the hunt of some sabre-tooth tiger for the glory of the tribe. It’s machismo pure and simple and most coaches will tell you it’s their life. Oh, they pay dutiful homage to “family and faith” of course, but it’s football that keeps the brotherhood together in almost an exercise of devotion. As I mentioned in the earlier post, it’s a religion in most every sense — ritual, zealotry, ornamental dress, and rigid tenets. Probably the most important tenet is that coaches live out every win and loss together. Like most closed circles of the faithful, they talk, they argue, and they critique their fellows — all the time.

With that background is it really plausible, that in a town as ga-ga over football as State College is, Paterno really didn’t know about Sandusky’s run-in with law enforcement? Is State College immune from the marriage that all authority figures have for one another in most every other small town. You know like when the police chief and the high school football coach meet over coffee to discuss who’s handling security for Friday’s game and whether that trouble-making Jones kid will be there. Or when the mayor runs into the school superintendent and they talk about the kid who bullied the mayor’s little precious. These conversations go on every day in every small town in America — and most big ones, too.

Put those little facts together with the fact that Paterno did not attend Sandusky’s retirement party, and was rarely seen outside of the football facility with Sandusky, and you might wonder what happened to the relationship after 1998. You might wonder why Sandusky quit applying for head coaching jobs. You might even conclude that Coach Paterno nudged his former right-hand man out of his position at age 55, and refused to recommend him for any job at the head of  another football program.  No, not even at Virginia or Maryland who were desperate for a big name, sure winner and who rarely ever played Penn State. Nobody ever explained why Sandusky didn’t get those jobs despite their stated interest and his brightly burning star. Just the usual, “we have a number of good candidates … blah, blah, blah.” You might conclude that Penn State knew about the transgression with the child and, in exchange for his leaving the Program, cut  a deal to grant him and his charity unfettered access to the program and satellite campuses, but no direct role in its operation with young men. That way, you see, there’s no taint. No questions on the  propriety of a program that made $51 million for the school last year and funded 26 academic departments — all on the efforts of 18-22 year old-young men. Nope, no questions indeed, except the big one whose answer may be locked away in some ancient personnel files that seem to have the nasty habit of getting lost amid all that moving that goes on within campus departments.

What does a person do who’s banished from the  priesthood? How do you react, after a life of high achievement in every sphere, and then are abruptly denied your goal when it is within your grasp? What do you feel, and how do you act on those feelings?  Those are the questions that can only be answered by answering the first one I asked.

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

190 thoughts on “Down In the Valley I: Penn State – What Did They Know and When Did They Know it”

  1. I found (from an INCREDIBLY unlikely source) a well composed and well researched blog post that essentially outlines the link between homophobic organizations in which adults have “ultimate authority” over children and pedophilia. I think if more people understood the reality that pedophilia is incur able, dangerous, and facilitated by these organizations, more of them would come under scrutiny. Click here to read it for yourself .

  2. So, a family member finally comes forward. It is amazing to me that when a prosecution begins for sexual abuse of children, the prosecutors do not automatically check out the children in the family of the alleged molester. But history shows that the obvious step is most often skipped. I remember that COUNTRY WALK zeroed in on a man who had children, but the children were never even interviewed by child protective services personnel. The vast majority of child sexual abuse is really incest, yet that is the most easily covered up and the hardest to prove. It is also the most deadly, in terms of its effect upon the victims. Those effects are very difficult to even identify, much less attribute. I heard one woman who had been molested by her father, her uncle and then her dentist say: “It’s horrible to be molested by your dentist, you TRUST HIM! I mean, OK, your father did it, your uncle did it, you can get over that, but your DENTIST? You will never trust anyone to take care of your teeth again!”

  3. Alleged Penn State victim says to sue charity

    NEW YORK (Reuters) – One of the alleged victims in the Penn State University child sex abuse scandal on Wednesday sought an injunction to stop the Second Mile charity from dissipating its assets.

    In a filing in Pennsylvania state court, the alleged victim said he and others intended to sue The Second Mile for negligence and failing to report known sexual abuse of children, and wanted to stop the charity’s assets from disappearing.

    The Second Mile is the children’s charity founded by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who has been charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse.

    According to the grand jury report that laid out the charges against Sandusky, The Second Mile learned almost a decade ago that he had showered with a young boy but did not alert the police.

    Last week, the charity said it had accepted the resignation of its chief executive of 28 years, Jack Raykovitz. In a November 21 statement on its website, it said it was exploring options regarding its future, including not continuing.

    The court filing on Wednesday said it sought to stop the charity from discontinuing or transferring its programs to other organizations.

    “The assets of The Second Mile should not be dissipated, encumbered or in way obligated or disturbed in any form and should be available to victims of sexual abuse,” according to the court filing.

  4. The Catholic Church is a big institution that sheltered pedophiles too.

    Some recent news:

    Victims Welcome News Of Cardinal Law’s Resignation

  5. I think Gov Corbett, then AG, heeded the advice to all revolutionaries written by Emerson, “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.”

  6. Elaine M:

    I think it’s about small town justice. Serene isn’t it?

    See my favorite play, An Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen.

  7. mespo,

    I think you’re right. One has to wonder how many people have dirty hands in this scandal. That story about the school and how its principal, vice principal/football coach, and counselor responded to Victim One and his mother made me sick to my stomach.

  8. Great updates Elaine. As the mother of one victim stated in the Huffington Post article, “I thought that he just made the rounds.” Unfortunately, he did make the “rounds” and no adult had the sense to stop it.

  9. Penn State’s New Villain: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett
    The investigation of Jerry Sandusky began when Tom Corbett, the Pennsylvania governor, was attorney general. What took so long?
    The Daily Beast

    Like an unchecked oil spill with no effective cleanup plan in sight, the black ooze flowing from the tragedy and travesty of the Penn State scandal keeps spreading, covering even those who—because of mad-dash coverage, in particular by The New York Times—were originally hailed as instant heroes.

    A week after a state grand jury reported dozens of horrific acts of sexual abuse against minors by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, the only man who stood tall was Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.

    The investigation started in 2009 on Corbett’s watch, when he was state attorney general, and the release of the 40-count indictment against Sandusky occurred with Corbett in the governor’s mansion.

    It was hard not to admire him, although Jo Becker went a little far in her shameless puff piece in the Times on Nov. 10. He had taken on a case of such enormous ramifications, ripping open the state’s most sacrosanct institution and its most powerful man, football coach Joe Paterno. The great JoePa, who did nothing to stop Sandusky’s alleged depravity but kick it upstairs to superiors when everyone knew Paterno had no superiors, was fired. Graham Spanier, the president of Penn State, was out as well.

    That made Corbett appear even taller.

    Except for the fact that the way his office handled the investigation raises inevitable and legitimate questions about why an alleged sexual predator was allowed to remain at large for nearly three years while the grand jury investigated. The question of political considerations cannot be avoided.

    Not only that, but Corbett’s gubernatorial staff approved—yes, approved—a $3 million grant to Second Mile, the foundation for kids that, according to the grand jury, served as a repository for potential sex-abuse victims. Corbett knew about the grant and let it through last July for reasons that seem absurd.

    Kathleen Kane, who is running for attorney general, is a Democrat, while Corbett is a Republican. But Kane was also an assistant district attorney in Lackawanna County who specialized in cases of sexual abuse for 12 years. She told me that in any case where authorities know of an alleged sexual predator believed to have committed a crime, the first obligation is to make an arrest. The risk of Sandusky committing another act against a minor child was too great to wait three years for a report, she said emphatically.

    Corbett brushed off any criticism last week as being misinformed. “The investigation moved as quickly as it could,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “If, during the time that I was in office, we could have been in a position to make an arrest, we would have made an arrest.”

    I am not a lawyer, but I have spoken to former prosecutors who have dealt with sexual abuse, including rape, and they don’t buy Corbett’s line for a second. “You don’t need a grand-jury report,” said one. “If there is an alleged sexual predator on the streets known to you, you get him off the streets.” After an arrest, the former prosecutor said, there is nothing to preclude investigators from finding more alleged victims. In fact, victims might have been more comfortable coming forward knowing that the alleged perpetrator had been arrested. And the actions of Penn State officials still could have been probed.

  10. Elaine M:

    Good work there, Elaine. Seems Coach Turchetta might have been dragged into his “heroism” kicking and screaming. Welcome to small town America, where most everyone is complicit.

  11. Penn State Scandal: Mother Of Alleged Jerry Sandusky Victim Claims Mistreatment By Son’s School

    Court records refer to him simply, as Victim One. Outside of a four-and-a-half page section about him in the grand jury indictment of ex-Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, little else has been discussed about him publicly.

    Last week, his mother (who I will refer to as “Mother One”) removed him from Central Mountain High School in Mill Hall, Pa., where he was a senior and an all-star athlete. In an interview conducted last week, she explained why she pulled him from the school.

    “They were not helpful,” Mother One said of the school’s administrators. “They wanted me to go home and forget about it.”

    Mother One also alleges that since the Sandusky scandal erupted, fellow students and the high school’s football coach (who also serves as assistant principal) have all targeted her son with verbal attacks and threats of violence.

    She also claims that the school’s principal tried to convince her and her son not to report their allegations against Sandusky to the police, and that as recently as this month, refused to treat threats of violence against her son by other students as credible.

    Central Mountain High’s principal, Karen Probst, and its football coach, Steve Turchetta, did not return phone calls seeking comment about Mother One’s complaints.

    Mother One — who first spoke to the Patriot News earlier this month — and Victim One, who is now 18, requested anonymity to preserve their privacy and their safety.

    Jerry Sandusky, a prominent member of the Penn State community and the former defensive coordinator for the university’s football team, is accused of molesting at least eight boys over a 15-year period. According to the grand jury indictment (PDF link), sometime in 2005 or 2006, Victim One, aged 11 or 12, met Sandusky through his charity for disadvantaged kids, The Second Mile. (Mother One says she isn’t entirely certain when her son met Sandusky.)

    As a single parent, Mother One said she wanted to take advantage of the opportunity Second Mile offered. Her son enjoyed Second Mile’s summer camps, which is where she recalls meeting Sandusky for the first time.

    They were in a warehouse where the charity’s annual Parent Award Ceremonies were held. “My son grabbed me by the hand and said, ‘Come on, I want you to meet someone,'” she recalled. He then “practically dragged” her across the big space to introduce her to Sandusky. “I was like, ‘Okay, nice to meet you.’ I didn’t know who he was. I had no clue who he was. I had never even heard of Jerry Sandusky prior to this.”

    Mother One remembers regularly seeing Sandusky frequenting the school halls throughout her son’s middle school years. She assumed he was volunteering in some capacity and didn’t think further of it.

    Toward the end of eighth grade, things changed at home. Victim One began to lash out in unusual ways, his mother recalled, “getting mouthy and nasty at home.”

    “I called the school psychologist and they brushed it off. They said it was just puberty. That he was a good kid and that it would all work out.”

    Since she had no reason to suspect anything else was amiss, she said she went along with the counselor’s advice.

    The following year was Victim One’s first at Central Mountain High. Once again, Sandusky apparently had a presence at the school.

    Mother One says she still didn’t find his presence odd — at least not at first. “I thought he was involved in all the schools. I thought that he just made the rounds.”

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