Sandusky, Paterno, and The Devotion to Rape Apology

“While the rest of the world sees how badly Paterno failed when a graduate assistant informed him in 2002 that he witnessed Sandusky raping a 10-year old boy, the Penn State community sees only the iconic image of the man and an uncertain football future without him. And the reaction is frightening.” Dan Wolken, Of Football and Fury.

“To me, Joe Paterno is still a great man and he will always be a legend. Unfortunately his legacy will be tainted, obviously, by this,” – Paul Posluszny, former Penn State player and current linebacker for the Jacksonville Jaguars

On Wednesday, November 10th, Penn State head coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier were fired by the school’s board of trustees over the subsequent fallout from the cover up of former Penn State defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, and his sexual abuse of young boys. Sandusky, who currently has 40 counts of sexual abuse charges that span more than 15 years, had been the subject of a three-year investigation following a charge made in 2009 when it was reported that Sandusky had sexually assaulted a child who had been a participant of The Second Mile program, a organization for impoverished youth, starting when the child was ten and continuing over a four year period.  As the investigation went deeper, further evidence was found that Sandusky had sexually assaulted at least eight other young boys from 1994 on, 20 that occurred while Sandusky was still employed at Penn State.

So, why were Coach Paterno and Penn State President Spanier fired?

Well, for starters, both knew full well what was happening and did the least amount possible to report it. According to the attorney general’s reports (which you can read here, but trigger warning for content), graduate assistant Mike McQueary (now Penn State’s receivers coach) witnessed Sandusky in the shower with a young man, whose age he believed to be ten, with Sandusky subjecting the child to anal rape. When both Sandusky and the victim noticed that the assistant was there, McQueary fled the scene and only later reported the incident to Coach Paterno the next day, stating that he had seen Sandusky raping the young child. Paterno then called Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley to report that McQueary had seen Sandusky “fooling around” with the young boy, chalking it up to horseplay by severely downplaying what had been seen. A week later, McQueary was called into a meeting, where Paterno was not present, and was reassured that the incident was being looked into. McQueary was not further questioned by campus police or any other law enforcement until 2010, when a grand jury called upon him to counter Curley’s claim that he had witnessed Sandusky and the victim just “horsing around.”

Curley and Paterno chose to ignore and downplay this information and only banned Sandusky from bringing kids onto the Penn State campus. No one called the police, no one followed through with the chain of command, no one did anything but the least amount legally required as to skirt potential controversy. A man raped and sexually assaulted children for fifteen years. He abused his power to sexually hurt and exert power over children and his buddies all knew. But all that the Penn State chain of command did was just ban him from sexually assaulting them on their campus. According to Prevent Child Abuse PA and Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law, what Paterno did was legal, yet the absolute bare minimum with serious ethical flaws: “A person who, in the course of employment, occupation or practice of a profession, has reasonable cause to suspect that a child under the care, supervision, guidance or training of that person or of an agency, institution, organization or other entity with which that person is affiliated is a victim of child abuse, including child abuse by an individual who is not a perpetrator… are required to report suspected child abuse.” Only the future will tell if any charges will actually be brought against Paterno. Currently, McQueary who witnessed (and walked away from) the incident in the showers, is still employed by Penn State and scheduled to coach this weekend’s game.

So crowds rioted, although, not exactly for what you think. On Wednesday evening, hundreds of Penn State students gathered into the streets to protest the firing of Paterno, only to end up tearing apart those same streets by knocking in car windows, clashing with police, and even turning over a local news van. Police initially pepper sprayed the crowds but at one point in the evening, stepped back to allow the crowd to vent “their outrage.”

Vent their outrage. These young, predominantly white men needed to vent their outrage over a man who let someone rape children for fifteen years. They begged for his dignity, they screamed that everyone is just “overreacting,” that Paterno is entitled to his job, that he is a good man, that this might hurt the football team. Why is this conversation centered around Paterno’s quality, what is being done to Paterno? Seriously, if you ever needed more evidence on why sexual assault and rape survivors don’t come forward, all you need to do is look at the reaction of these students for a primer in Rape Culture 101 and the devious power of “the good ol’ boy.”

So many who rush to defend Paterno’s reputation as a great coach, seem to forget that this isn’t the first time that Paterno has been in hot water. From Wikipedia,  “In 1995, Paterno was as forced to apologize for a profanity-laced tirade directed at Rutgers then-head coach Doug Graber at the conclusion of a nationally televised game. He was also accused of ‘making light of sexual assault’ in 2006 by the National Organization for Women which called for his resignation, and was involved in a road rage incident in 2007,” as well as having a team that has had 46 players facing a total of 163 criminal charges. From sports commentary site, I Bleed Crimson Red:

In 1999, Paterno defended linebacker LaVar Arrington after he assaulted a defenseless Pitt punter in the middle of a game. Then in 2000 he allowed quarterback Rashard Casey to start every game despite being charged with assaulting a cop. In subsequent years according to Chris Korman, “Players were constantly getting into violent altercations with other students… There were fights at the ice skating rink, the union building at the center of campus, frats, apartments, houses.” Former Ravens cornerback Anwar Phillips was accused of sexual assault, yet was allowed to “play in a bowl game before serving his two-semester suspension.” Korman looked into “probably a half-dozen others [sexual assault cases] that never went to trial. Women were fearful they’d never get a fair trial in State College. Victims of beatings knew the scales of justice were already tilted against them. ESPN actually compiled numbers to show just how rambunctious it got in Happy Valley, reporting that from 2002 to 2008 there were 46 players charged with 163 counts.” In 2006, LaVon Chisley, a defensive end who spent three years in the program, killed a fellow student by stabbing him 93 times. This was after he took loans from sports agents and became academically ineligible to play football. However, he was allowed to participate in Penn State’s Pro Day. Paterno even went so far as to say Tony Johnson, a wide receiver arrested for DUI, “didn’t do anything to anyone.” Sports Illustrated in 2011 declared Penn State as one of the worst schools in college football for players with police records with 16 players charged.

Yet, the story doesn’t just stop at the abuse of these kids and the cover up by many. As of November 10th, Sandusky is being investigated for allegedly “pimping out” young children to wealthy donors of the Second Mile Foundation. This isn’t new news either. The original story ran six months ago when it was reported that in 1998, allegations surfaced of improper conduct towards an underage male in shower at Penn State’s on-campus football facility, though no charges were filed. In 2009, a fifteen-year-old boy made another complaint, which resulted in a grand jury investigating Sandusky for eighteen months, where both Curley and Paterno were questioned.

Jerry Sandusky committed sexual abuse.  Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, and Mike McQueary looked the other way. They were presented with knowledge of the sexual assault of children and did the bare minimum, which, let’s be honest, was nothing. Nothing. No amount of good coaching or victories will ever undo that. So many of his defenders want to talk about the legend of Paterno, that he is a great man and that he ultimately is a good person. So let me ask this. If he was concerned more about his football team rather than the rape of children, so much so that he  under-reported a sexual assault, as well as turned a blind eye to many others, how does that make him a good person worthy of keeping his job as an authority figure?

What does it mean when you riot in the streets in support of someone who was told that he saw Sandusky raping a child and did the bare minimum? What does it mean when so many rush to his aid, issuing statements like, “I think the point people are trying to make is the media is responsible for JoePa going down,” and,  “We got rowdy, and we got maced. But make no mistake, the board started this riot by firing our coach. They tarnished a legend.”  What does it mean that men knew a child had been raped and yet only made the assailant “take it outside”What does it mean when he is allowed to sit on the sidelines for this Saturday’s Penn State game? What does it mean when you are the family of one of the victims and you have to apparently stomach your peers rioting over the “unfairness” of firing the man who took no action against the sexual assault of your brother? 

 1. 1 in 6 men in America are the victims of unwanted sexual contact before the age of 16. Over 20 million men in this country were the victims of molestation.

2. Statistics show that survivors of sexual abuse almost NEVER go on to perpetrate against others. To say otherwise is flat out wrong and only serves to ostracize and shame victims into silence instead of allowing them to come forward and ask for help.

3. The majority of molesters are known to their victims. Many perpetrators purposely seek out children who, for any number of reasons, are vulnerable and “groom” them.

4. Sexual abuse is not about sex. It is about power. This is not a “sex scandal.” These children were raped. To call this is a sex scandal is to do a gross injustice to the victims.

5. Lastly, and most importantly, to anyone who was a victim: You are not alone. You are not to blame for what happened to you. And it is possible to heal.

Chris Anderson, Vice President of the Board of Directors of MaleSurvivor

These are grown men who knew the abuse of children was happening, yet each and every one of them made a choice to protect their interests rather than these kids. This isn’t a sex scandal because that would require consent and an even playing field. This is rape, when folks are flipping over news vans and screaming in “the legend’s” defense, thats what rape culture looks like in action. Because make no mistake, this isn’t just about Sandusky, or Paterno, or even Penn State. It’s about about the exercising of power over the vulnerable. It’s about protecting a reputation more than it is protecting victims of heinous crimes. It’s about rape victims – children, who were considered nothing more than collateral damage, a threat to the greatness of an institution, and most importantly, it’s about a culture – our culture, that damns sexual assault victims down to the lowest brinks of society because apparently, that’s where they belong. So excuse me if you will when I give a big “hell no” to Paterno’s most recent statement: “If this is true, we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families. They are in our prayers,” if you will.

“What Herman Cain and the disgraced male leaders of Penn State have in common is the issue of power and privilege we men not only wield like our birthright, but which has come to be so inextricably linked to our identities. So much so, in fact, that many of us, regardless of race, class, religion and, in some cases, even sexual orientation or physical abilities, don’t even realize what a disaster manhood is when it is unapologetically invested in power, privilege, patriarchy, sexism, and a reckless disregard for the safety and sanity of others, especially women and children “¦ where we men and boys understand that we must be allies to women and girls, allies to all children, and be much louder, visible, and outspoken about sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse and molestation. Knowing that if we are on the frontlines of these human tragedies then we can surely help to make them end once and for all, for the good of us all…

…That means time for some of us to grow, and to grow up. Time for some of us to let go of the ego trips and the pissing contests to protect bruised and battered egos of boys masquerading as men. Before it is too late, before some of us hurt more women, more children, and more of ourselves, yet again.” -Kevin Powell, “Joe Paterno, Herman Cain, Men, Sex and Power”

This was not about the inability or ignorance to take appropriate action. It was about not wanting to do so. So here it is, my first thought on the matter and my last thought on the whole matter. If you are angrier about football – so much so that you feel the need to riot, defend, and apologize – than you are about the long term cover up by several authority figures of at least nine children being sexually assaulted and raped by a grown man, then may I suggest a day spent volunteering at a crisis center to get your perspective straight.


Update: “Due to multiple threats made against Assistant Coach Mike McQueary, the University has decided it would be in the best interest of all for Assistant Coach McQueary not to be in attendance at Saturday’s Nebraska game” – The Patriot News

4 replies on “Sandusky, Paterno, and The Devotion to Rape Apology”

one of the problems I’ve seen is everyone is so fixated with using paterno’s name in their headlines. To me, this contributed to the riots.

My single semester  of college (yay, generational poverty trends!) was at a Penn State campus. It is true that 1) way too much of the school spirit is wrapped up in football and 2) rape apologism is alive and well. But to me the (unethical) media ploy of latching on to the most visible name- someone who while definitely FUCKED UP, was a relatively minor player in the scandal- also contributed to the riots.

By using Paterno as the media hook, the media made it all about a figure that was going to be the most provocative for the students. They contributed to making a just- and also in line with the University code of conduct and principles- decision from the board into a fiasco, instead of focusing on those who actively covered this up (instead of failing to follow through when reporting resulted in an illegal cover up, and further failing to report after PSU instated a whistle blower policy back in June of 2010). It at first didn’t focus on who actually committed the crimes- Sandusky- in the headlines. Too many of the ledes involved Paterno; too few focused on Sandusky, or with Curly and Shultz who actively covered it up and are facing criminal charges. Indeed, Shultz’s duties in overseeing the campus security makes it doubly grievous that he failed to report and actively covered it up.

It’s symptomatic of a much larger problem in our media today- a tendency to lede and headline things misleadingly in order to sell more papers or to gain more access to influential individuals.

Don’t get me wrong- Paterno fucked up. Period. And his resignation- and the board’s request for it- was justified, both ethically and procedurally under PSU’s own policies that every student has to sign on to.  And The student riots were also fucked up, and based on the same culture that resulted in the cover up.  But something has to be said about what the media has done in order to reach more eyeballs.

I can’t help but think the media and society would have reacted very differently if players had done this. I have seen more outrage from them when a player stole a laptop or their parents accepted money from boosters. The reaction from people, who are ignoring that only a sick person would know this was going on and ignored it, is mind blowing!

Today’s game coverage was full of references about the game healing the Penn State family. Gross. They are not the ones who were wronged or need to heal.

The totally un-aware student PR machine went about asking fans to wear blue tee shirts to raise child abuse awareness.  My goodness, we are all aware!  PSU fools, the whole nation now associate PSU with child abuse now; they need not wear any special color shirt.  The problem is not limited awareness; the problem is action. MANY on their campus were well aware of abuse but did nothing.  Please spare us your awareness campaign, your coaches have done enough on that front.

This article was also sharp in pointing out other instances of mess.  They are Penn State, indeed.



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