PSU, Jerry Sandusky, and a Familiar Darkness

Posted by By at 13 July, at 20 : 24 PM Print

Rock the Capital ran this column back on November 15, 2011.  I wrote it, after 50 years of silence. And then I put a pen-name on it. I have been unhappy with myself about that. My decision to tell the story in the wake of the Sandusky scandal at Penn State was not an easy one to make…and then I backed off and hid behind a mask. By doing that I was paying lip service to the idea that the rape victim is to blame for what happened to them, and that is pure BS. No means no. Now, many months later, Sandusky is convicted and the reputations of Penn State and The Man who Fell to Earth, Joe Paterno, lie in tatters. I can only guess how the victims of Sandusky and the power structure of PSU feel now. I hope that in the swirl of emotions are some bits of light and vindication. And I hope that their willingness to go through the agony of testifying in open court brings the rest of us a little closer to understanding, and lifts us out of the fear of snickering yahoos and crude jokes. So, I tell my story again with my mask set aside. I wish I had done it that way the first time.


I see all this breast-beating and wailing over JoePa and the Penn State University football program and I find myself grinding my teeth.

If you have been asleep under a flat rock: Back in 2002, a graduate assistant at Penn State allegedly saw defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky performing a sex act on a 10-year-old boy in the men’s locker room. He reported what he saw to head coach Joe Paterno, who reported it to his boss, and that’s pretty much as far as it went. At no time were the police called in to investigate, something required by law.

Fast forward to the present. An investigation was eventually launched. (The Patriot-News in Harrisburg broke the story last spring, and was vilified for doing so.) Sandusky was arrested Nov. 5 and released on $100,000 bail after being arraigned on 40 criminal counts, including the molestation of at least eight boys over the past 15 years.

I predict more will come forward.

Athletic director Tim Curley and Vice President for Finance Gary Schultz were also charged with not reporting the sexual abuse to police and lying to a grand jury under oath during the investigation.

Paterno was fired, as was Graham Spanier, Penn State’s president. Curley and Schultz resigned. Sacrificial, certainly. Lambs, hardly.

From what I can see, everything so far has been a lot of scrambling around to protect the “good name” of the school and the football program.

As if.

Back in the early 1960s, in a town very much like State College, a 13-year-old boy was raped by one of the stars of the middle school they both attended. Nobody saw the event.

The perpetrator, much bigger and stronger than the victim, didn’t have much difficulty. He got in no trouble. For one thing, in those days, those were not the sort of things kids could talk about, not even to their parents. The victim kept his mouth shut.

The rapist’s father was a big shot football coach at the flagship school in the state’s university system.

Even at 13, I could see the way the wind was blowing, and kept my mouth shut.

That’s right. I was the boy left lying in the mud, in pain, shamed.

The humiliation went on for years. My rapist, a very popular boy in our school, started a whisper campaign, telling everyone that I was “queer.”

It was the early 60s. You can imagine the implications. The social effects on a kid then and there were pretty crippling. No, you don’t talk to your family or friends. You just keep your head down, ignore the slurs and threats, and stay away from most everybody.

That part was easy.

Then, as now, football was a form of religion. More than any other social activity, it was what everybody talked about, cared about. During the season, the university’s school colors were everywhere, on everything. During home games, locals knew that if they weren’t going to go to the game, they might as well stay home or leave town; there was no getting anywhere before and after the game.

Football was and is the basis of many long-standing friendships. People at the university formed friendships woven around the game and the team and the heroic coach who made it all happen. Socially, you had better know everything there was to know about “our” team’s standing and every possible bit of minutia there was to know about every player, coach, coordinator and what have you, or you were dubbed a dilettante, not to be taken seriously. Tell somebody you had no interest, and you were immediately a zero, a non-entity.

Football, in short, was and remains everything.

So, I watch the hoo-hah at Happy Valley from a slightly different perspective.

I read an interview with the sister of one of Sandusky’s alleged victims. She is a student at Penn State. She said she is sickened by the jokes she hears on campus. Kids talk about getting “Sanduskied.”

The night of the firings, Penn State students upset over the firing of their beloved coach rioted. News reports said they chanted “We want JoePa,” “One more game” and “F*** the media!” damaged a TV van, threw rocks at police and set off fireworks.

F*** the media? The ones who broke the story and brought a little sunlight onto this festering sore? F*** you.

Late Thursday night, Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin tweeted “This is a tough time But the outrage we are feeling now is nothing compared to what the victims are going through. Keep them in our prayers.”

I hope he meant that. I remember all those dark years and hope that the alleged victims get help and avoid wandering in that particular desert. I hope that a full and public investigation reveals who, from Jerry Sandusky up through that chain of command, chose loyalty to their colleagues and football program over the welfare of the children who trusted them, regardless what the revelations may do to the Nittany Lions’ ranking as a football powerhouse.

Photo by pennstatelive
This post was written by:
- who has written 28 posts for Rock The Capital
T.W. Burger was born in western Pennsylvania but spent more than 30 years growing up in Athens Ga., with a two-year side-trip to Greenville, Mississippi. He has lived in the Gettysburg area since 1985. Before becoming a newspaper reporter at 35, he was an apprentice mortician, concrete mixer driver, garbageman, salesman, laboratory technician and all-around roustabout. He has written professionally since the late 1970s. He lives along Marsh Creek near Gettysburg with his partner Sue and a loose affiliation of cats. He is the author of the “Burger to Go” blogsite at - Email tburger

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