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Joe Pa – The Real Tragedies

Joe Pa called it a “tragedy” and he would know best. There should be no doubt that a primary concern in this situation is the harm done to the abused victims (I won’t bother adding “alleged”). Indeed, few understand the emotional, psychological, social, and familial harm caused by pathetic people who prey on kids and young adults. I don’t want to diminish their tragedy by pointing out another: the emotional, psychological, social, and institutional harm caused by the pathetic people who put “reputation”, money, or whatever else above moral duty, humanitarianism, or plain old common decency. While those are the greater tragedies here, there are more. There is the tragedy of truth – or more accurately, loss of truth – and the tragedy of injustice – or the failure of justice.

I can speak to the first tragedy from first-hand experience since I had a similar experience when I was 10-11 years old. I can also add that the matter is NOT improved by public attention or other people pointing out how much of a tragedy they think this might be. Each victim will respond in their own way, but we should NOT direct focus upon their being “victimized”. Their privacy and dignity stand above everybody’s interest and desire to be helpful. The external impetus of being deemed a victim is NOT healthy or helpful for most victims.

I have less experience with the institutional tragedy, but am confident that the total loss thereby will be far greater than that of the boys[1] abused by some degenerate.  One only has to witness the scale of the response to Joe Pa’s being fired to get an idea of how many people were hurt deeply by that single outcome. Seeing the response of Matt Millen (ESPN pundit and Penn. State football star) demonstrates the depth of feeling held by TENS of THOUSANDS about this great institution. I regret to say that their hurt is just beginning and that the scale of tragedy from that psychological distress will never be known.

The institutional tragedy extends well beyond the personal effects on students, fans, and staff. A great institution with a superb reputation, plenty of good will, and massive personal investment will simply never fully recover. Indeed, it may not survive in its current form[2]. The football program of the Nittany Lions was second to none in being both admirable and productive. Many young people around the country could (and did) view Joe Pa’s program as “college football done right”. In a time of institutional disappointment, this one stings disproportionately solely because so many held this institution in such high esteem. How does one measure such a loss?

The tragedy of truth has three parts: the institutional cover-up, the failure of “investigation”, and the media coverage. How does something as clearly immoral and illegal as the reported events simply disappear from attention and awareness? How many DOZENS of people had to simply put aside their ethics and decency to keep these events secret? How much pressure was exerted by PSU officials to keep this matter quiet and how did the families of the victims simply let it go (were there payouts)? But most disturbing was this: what did those in the know do to protect the subsequent victims from becoming such? (A credible witness reported a child rape at a campus facility involving a former staff member – and yet that staff member was not hindered in his continuing abuses).  PSU officials – beyond the two charged with perjury (Curley and Schultz) – had to be involved in a “cover-up” of significant size. Because of this, the truth about those involved will probably never be known.

The grand jury indictment regarding the abuses raises plenty of issues, the most important of which may be the failure of the “investigators” (who are supposedly “truth seekers”). While we might presume that responsible authorities (like Joe Pa) had some duty to investigate, we all understand that our system provides access to people who get paid specifically to investigate – the police. Gary Schultz was the administration official who headed the police – the campus investigators. While it is likely that his job description didn’t include “investigation”, Joe Pa would have certainly understood that Schultz was in charge of that and therefore viewed him as the proper person to ensure that investigation was completed. But, according to the grand jury report, after Schultz was told about inappropriate sexual contact between Sandusky and the boy in the shower, he deemed such "not that serious'" and that there was “no indication that a crime had occurred”. We don’t know if any investigation ever occurred, but if it did, those folks are the ones who should be fired by telephone.

Furthermore, Schultz claimed (and testified) that he asked the “Child Protection Agency” to look into the matter, that University Counsel Wendell Courtney was advised of the report, that the University Police investigated, and that University President Graham Spanier was apprised of the report. We may have reason to believe, as the grand jury did, that Schultz was less than truthful, but how was Joe Pa to know that? He advised the proper people and had no reason to follow up. If the matter came up again, we could either trust that Joe Pa was assured that the matter was being properly investigated or we may assume that Joe Pa was as villainous as anybody could possibly be and directly contributed to other boys being abused. And this leads us to the final tragedy in this matter.

The media has become a center for opinionators and obfuscators, so it is hardly surprising when they fail to follow the facts. Journalists understand their duty to seek facts, evidence and truth and to avoid reporting – as the truth – their opinions. Another tragedy here is the loss of journalism and its critical role in disseminating the truth. At the very least, it should provide the essential function of reminding people to withhold judgment until a proper investigation can be completed. I was shocked to hear TV pundits calling for Joe Pa to be fired after a mere reading of the grand jury report[3]. Even allowing for the visceral and repugnant reaction to the despicable events being detailed, the WORST anyone could allege was that Joe Pa had not done MORE than legally required.

In a world were so many escape accountability for serious crimes, it is hard to justify the penalty these folks wanted to impose: ruin a man’s life and reputation because they THINK (and don’t know) that he could have or should have done more. Gads, they couldn’t even wait to hear his side of the story or allow an independent investigation to determine exactly what Joe Pa knew and when. Every man, woman, and child deserves more fairness than that, and a person who has lived an EXEMPLARY life of civic contribution, who has provided a wonderful role model, and who has offered so much to so many  should never be treated so unjustly[4].  The final tragedy here is that if Joe Pa can be treated so unjustly, what protections may the rest of us rely upon?

[1] And we should not forget the janitor who now suffers from witnessing a sexual crime and is now institutionalized.

[2] I hate to add duress to this tragedy, but the reality is that there will be a bunch of lawyers who recognize the University’s culpability and liability to students who paid a premium price to attend what was promoted as a premium institution. Official action has clearly diminished the value of the product (who would want to brag about a Penn. State education now?) Get ready for a flood of lawsuits – abuse victims, staff, alumni, funders (Nike), etc.

[4] As in: without the benefit of being heard or the results of a real investigation (“due process”).






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