Friday, November 11, 2011

Glum Valley: So many questions, so much angst, so few answers (posted 11.11.11)

Glum Valley: So many questions, so much angst, so few answers
Penn Staters everywhere are trying to process the incomprehensible and grasping desperately for answers - and hope

To those who have been reporting that Joe Paterno took Penn State from a small cow college to a major university, know that Penn State has the largest dues-paying alumni association in the world, and they didn't all graduate after the 1970s, when Paterno was taking PSU from a good football program to a great one.

And for those who characterize Penn State as a university built around a football team, know that Penn State is an extraordinarily comprehensive institution highly regarded within the collegiate community and by those who rank and evaluate universities and their programs.

For those who are now characterizing PSU students by an alleged "riot" Wednesday night and the reckless acts of an extremely small percentage of incited imbeciles that evening, know that PSU has the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, THON, which raised $9.56 million this year for children with cancer and their families. Know that there was a tremendous student-driven outpouring of support at PSU for Virginia Tech when that campus was victimized by a crazed gunman. And know that about 85-90 percent of the student body did not participate Wednesday night in any way, while the vast majority of those who participated did so peacefully without incident.

Those facts of course are pretty much irrelevant right now. They do nothing for the alleged victims, they don't mitigate this disaster in any way, they don't help us understand how this possibly could have happened.

The relevant facts:
  • Jerry Sandusky, who was a football coach at Penn State for decades, is alleged to have perpetrated dozens of sex crimes against at least eight boys from 1994-2008.
  • A tragic line of individuals over more than a decade who were, or may have been, aware of Sandusky's acts were either negligently culpable; did not feel empowered; cowardly; complicit; or grossly and maliciously covered up his acts. In RFBS' opinion, the only person at this point who clearly seems guilty is PSU VP Gary Schultz, who oversaw campus police. He is the only person known to be fully aware of both the 1998 and 2002 allegations against Sandusky. Many others could be culpable too, starting with those named in the grand jury report - AD Tim Curley, president Graham Spanier, Paterno, assistant coach Mike McQueary - and surely many others, including police/investigators, executives at Sandusky's children's charity The Second Mile and yet-to-be revealed others, such as big-time PSU football boosters.

How could this possibly have happened is Question No. 1, first and foremost. How does a human monster get away with destroying young lives like this, brutally violating human decency, over and over again?

In the wake of this central, colossal, horrifying question, we are left with offshoot questions, hundreds of them, few that have concrete answers. Here are a few that come to mind:
  • How could the Penn State administration possibly have been so unprepared for this? President Spanier and others knew this day was coming, of course, though possibly not the full extent (the perjury charges might have caught them by surprise). Still, they knew it was imminent Sandusky would be charged with sexually abusing children on the PSU campus, and this would require maximum crisis management - a bomb was about to explode. Yet Penn State was woefully unprepared. It has been a gargantuan failure in leadership and foresight. Spanier released a simplistic initial statement that showed no grasp whatsoever of the entirety of the allegations. PSU has desperately been trying to play catch-up since, languishing behind the story, and tripping over itself almost every step of the way. Meanwhile, the Harrisburg Patriot-News was fully prepared, with in-depth investigative stories such as this one ready to go: T 
  • Should Saturday's football game against Nebraska be played? There is no easy answer to this one, despite what some commentators might say. There are compelling reasons on both sides. The feeling here is it shouldn't be played, that Penn State should forfeit. Of course that would be incredibly unfair to the team members, who are among the legions of collateral damage in this saga. But this is an extremely difficult decision with an incredible number of factors to consider on both sides.
  • If they do play Saturday - and it appears they will - dozens of other questions arise:
    • Will the security be ready and properly prepared? Will there be violence? (The noon start hopefully reduces the number of intoxicated persons)? Will the stadium be awash in protestors?
    • If Penn State falls behind early, will it emotionally collapse, committing ugly personal fouls and playing terribly? Can this possibly be a "normal" football game, at least between the lines?
    • Can the emotionally and physically exhausted, and possibly underprepared PSU players be expected to play well? 
    • If a PSU player does something good and has an enthusiastic reaction, will he be perceived as insensitive to the entirety of the situation? 
    • How will the crowd react? What will they cheer? Is it okay to root for Penn State football? If Penn State wins, is it okay to be happy? Is it okay to be sad if the team loses?
  • Will national sentiment toward anyone and anything affiliated with Penn State be permanently sullied at best, and overtly hostile at worst? For how long?
  • A major sponsor has pulled out of ESPN's coverage of the next two Penn State games. (What an extraordinary missed opportunity for this company, which could have run public service announcements about child abuse awareness, etc., and made an impact. But instead of taking the high road, they took the easy road.) Will this become a trend? And will any bowls extend an invitation to Penn State? What bowl will want a school with such a negative image, and which probably won't bring nearly as many fans as it does ordinarily? If PSU does get a bowl bid, should it decline?
  • Has the Board of Trustees helped make PSU a national pariah - in addition to continuing to look like it's not seeing the big picture - by inexplicably maintaining McQueary's status on the coaching staff despite his grand jury testimony to having witnessed Sandusky sodomizing a boy? (Even though McQueary will not be at Saturday's game due to concerns for his safety?) Some have reported that PSU might fear violating whistleblower laws with regard to McQueary. UPDATE: Late Friday afternoon McQueary was placed on administrative leave.
  • Can the Penn State campus move forward cohesively any time soon, with so many differing thoughts on what is happening, and with so many raw emotions? The only thing everyone can agree on is the feelings for the alleged victims and the abject horror that this not only happened, but happened at Penn State and in State College. Tonight there is a candlelight vigil for the victims. Everyone can get on board with that. But for other things it's not that easy. Such as determining how to show support for the alleged victims at the game tomorrow. There has been much debate about what do to, with wearing blue in support of the victims seeming to win out. We'll see.
  • Can people separate their loyalties from their analysis of this situation? Obviously, for so many affiliated with Penn State, this has proven exceptionally difficult, or impossible thus far, and the media has made sure to highlight this segment of the PSU student body. As hard as it is, Penn Staters need to step back and do their best to objectively evaluate everything. Withholding judgment of individuals until more information is known is okay, and having differences of opinion is okay. On the flip side, a lot of sports commentators, many ex-football players, are being asked for their opinions, and a few of them seem to be less interested in analyzing the unfurling tragedy and more interested in directing their vitriol at Penn State simply because it is Penn State, a rival school. Naming names and their alma maters isn't important. But in at least two instances RFBS has observed - and RFBS has been inhaling coverage of this saga since Sunday - it seems like they're relishing the opportunity to rip Penn State to shreds on a personal level, which is sad.

Hope is our focus now.

Hope that somehow, at some point, things can begin to slowly get better.

Hope is that there is someone, or someones, who tried, really truly genuinely tried, to do something about Sandusky and for inexplicable reasons beyond the limits of their ability were unable to do so.

Hope that abuse victims everywhere can somehow find peace in their lives.

Hope that raised awareness of sexual abuse of children will come from this tragedy and will help reduce instances of such abuse in the future.

Hope that the next witness - and next and next and next, on and on forever - will immediately go to the police and report what they know.

Hope that authorities will properly investigate such claims and make the right decisions.

Hope that media coverage as this saga continues will be thorough and fair. In other words, please don't focus solely on the 30 idiots who were misbehaving and the few hundred chanting (which has been all of the video highlights shown from Wednesday night, post-Paterno's firing, though RFBS watched live for an hour and saw only a sedentary gathering), and overlook the thousands who were basically just standing around and the 35-40,000 who weren't participating at all. Try to find the better range of thoughts and opinions, or consensus opinions. Not just that of the one moron jumping up and down on a car, or the zealot camping outside the Paterno house for the past 72 hours.

Hope that things don't get worse - that there aren't more victims of Sandusky, that as few people as possible actually could have prevented this tragedy.

Hope that the Board of Trustees will have wisdom and courage moving forward.

Hope that the incredible things about Penn State for the past century and a half are not permanently obscured and diminished. Everything good that has happened still happened.

There are much smaller hopes, too. Please, ESPN and anyone else (except perhaps websites specifically devoted to recruiting), stop talking about how this will impact football recruiting, stop providing updates on how individual recruits are reacting to this. It's completely inappropriate right now. Obviously, it will have a big impact on PSU football recruiting, perhaps for many years to come, everyone knows that. But can we at least wait a few weeks before discussing something like that? It is reminiscent of the blogger who, moments after news broke that an Alabama football player died in an accident, posted about how it will impact the Crimson Tide depth chart.

The Board of Trustees met for the fourth day in a row Friday. A special committee, headed by Merck & Co. CEO Kenneth Frazier, was formed to undertake a "full and complete investigation'' to determine:

  1. What happened, what failures occurred
  2. Who's responsible for those failures
  3. Impart measures to insure something like this can never happen again
  4. Make sure those responsible are being held fully accountable

May the committee's findings help us begin the road to recovery.

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