Wednesday, May 30, 2012

All the good from the Sandusky scandal. Yes, the good.

Of course it will never offset the anguish and suffering of those who allegedly were abused, nor will it undo the damage inflicted upon Penn State, the children of the Second Mile and the community. But the Sandusky scandal has been good, too. 

The Sandusky scandal was, is and always will be an epic tragedy. One with children allegedly as the violated victims, multiple times over.

The pending trial, set to begin June 5 with jury selection, ultimately will determine his fate. Sandusky is charged with 52 counts of abusing 10 boys.

But in the numbing, wrenching darkness of last November, who could have foreseen so many good things emerging from something so mind-bogglingly horrific?

1. Openness.

In a word, Penn State is making a most welcome and overdue transformation. New PSU president Rodney Erickson, who inherited the scandal fallout, declared openness to be a new school policy shortly after taking over.

One word launched a refreshing new era.

The actions of the PSU Board of Trustees (more on them later) and Ivory Tower inner workings all too often seemed - and were - inaccessible. But when something like Sandusky happens, such secretiveness simply cannot be tolerated anymore.

"Government in the sunshine" always is a good thing. Accountability is paramount.

Now we have a PSU website ( specifically dedicated to maintaining such a policy of openness. The transition is under way.

There will be fits and starts as the Penn State monolith grows into this new state of openness, like a glacier changing course after grinding in the same direction for centuries. It will be clumsy for awhile - the university can't become a paragon of openness overnight.

Openness was needed pre-Sandusky, and it is essential post-Sandusky. That it took Sandusky to make it happen is terrible, but thankfully it is happening.


2. The beautiful, if overwhelmingly sad, rediscovery of what made Joe Paterno, Joe Paterno.

When something, or someone, is a bedrock for so long (soooooooo long), well, it's not that you take it for granted, but, well, you take it for granted.

As the world dissected the vile Sandusky matter looking for dirt on Paterno (and there were some missteps to be found), and as any and all Paterno detractors and enemies took turns tossing grenades his way, an incredible thing happened:

Paterno never for a moment betrayed the values he had always espoused, even as he was being widely brutalized by the media, fired by Penn State and diagnosed with terminal cancer - in a span of days.

He never flinched, never made excuses, never lashed out, never pointed fingers, never wavered from the integrity and class he had always demonstrated, while living out the final weeks of his exceptional life.

Nothing he has said or done related to the scandal - including his mistakes - has been factually refuted. Though the journalists are still digging (Esquire magazine is the latest to weigh in) and will continue to do so.

It was truly extraordinary. He was who he was purported to be, until the end.


3. National widespread awareness of child sexual abuse has heightened tremendously, which is a great thing.

Sandusky was far from the first coach to use his power to abuse children, just the latest to be exposed. But for several reasons - mainly his connection to Paterno - his case struck The Big Nerve in the national media and national consciousness.

The scandal reached a tipping point almost instantaneously, with the force and velocity of an avalanche during the course of a mere weekend. Bam! Suddenly everyone everywhere was at least a little bit more aware that these horrific things happen, and that we all must be more vigilant in guarding against it.

It seems a little naive to believe that Sandusky alone could cause a sea change in societal awareness of such abuse. But try to find someone who doesn't know about Sandusky and isn't now more alert to finding, reporting and following through on such things.

We all are. Sandusky has done that.

On the flip side, some other abuse victims were inspired by Sandusky's alleged victims and stepped forward to the media or law enforcement. Hopefully the domino effect continues, and more victims find the courage to speak up and stop their abusers.


4. People have responded with financial contributions to worthy causes.

It seems uncouth to highlight money raised because victims may have suffered, as if that will make up for it somehow. But the fact is every worthy cause needs financial support, and Penn Staters have tapped into their bank accounts en masse.

On campus and in the alumni community, donations to abuse organizations such as RAINN have been impressive (more than half a million dollars to RAINN alone).

This spring, THON showed, as it always does, what Penn State is about at its best, raising a record $10 million-plus for pediatric cancer, inspired in part by widespread emotional reaction to the scandal and the Paterno family's efforts following the death of JoePa in January.

Think about that: An annual student philanthropic event raising $10 million in one year. It's incomprehensible.

In a terrible economy, amidst the gripping and demoralizing Sandusky crisis, people responded to a commitment to make things better, in ways small, large and grandiose.

That is "We Are Penn State" personified.

5. Mechanisms for reporting abuse on campus have been overhauled, and many other schools, communities, businesses and organizations have revisited and revamped procedures.

It's too late for so many victims, of course, but creating a culture where everyone has a better understanding of abuse and how to thwart it is essential to Penn State's identity and recovery, and is critical in society everywhere.

In the slew of Sandusky/Paterno stories in November's chaotic aftermath, two that stood out came from experts in the field of abuse and human behavior. One claimed Paterno did more than most in the same position would have done with regard to reporting what Mike McQueary told him (Paterno reported it to his superiors, but not police). Another said roughly three percent of the populace would have done more than Paterno did in the same situation.

That's it: a lousy three percent.

Paterno was harshly and stridently criticized for not doing more. He said he wished he had done more. He should have, at the very least, followed up much more stringently. And yet, according to some experts, he did more than most would have done.

That is a confounding assertion, because virtually everyone is outraged by child abuse. But how many actually act on suspicions, or report what they know to police, or their superiors, and then follow-up on it? Apparently, extraordinarily few.

Which makes sense on one regard. It helps explain why so many abusers aren't caught until they've perpetrated many, many acts of abuse. And when they are caught, it's usually due to a victim coming forward, not a witness. That must change.


6. The serendipitous strike of good fortune that the guy who accepted the mantle from the suddenly and shockingly deposed Penn State president Graham Spanier was so ready for the role. (update Oct. 2012: After his blind acceptance of the Freeh Report, and his buckling at the blackmail of the NCAA and Mark Emmert, it has become clar that Erickson, no matter how good he has appeared when addressing the camera, is not a strong leader and acts hastily under pressure, and might be little more than a puppet for the BOT.)

Probably 99 percent of Penn Staters, and about 99.9 percent of Pennsylvanians, had no idea who Rodney Erickson was prior to the second week in November despite his three-and-a-half decade tenure at the school.

We do now. And we're impressed, so far.

Steady and sure-handed. Seemingly humble yet no wallflower. Swift to act but not to overreact. Direct and forthcoming, not slick and politician-like. Resolute and composed.

Erickson, 65, gracefully endured the onslaught of outrage from Penn Staters over the scandal and its aftermath. He's reminiscent of your genial grandfather - if gramps was a former geography professor and president of the state university.

Erickson was not preparing for this role, was not positioning himself to slide from provost (chief academic officer) to president. But somehow he was ready anyway, literally on a moment's notice, and he was willing. Willing to inherit a catastrophic crisis. That's our kind of guy.

A few missteps aside - such as his comment early on about de-emphasizing athletics, which was clarified to mean he wants more emphasis placed on other things, not less on athletics - Erickson has calmly yet firmly guided Penn State through this unprecedented era.

That said, Erickson is not a long-term solution. Though his interim tag quickly was removed in November, he will be president for just a fraction as long as Spanier. The next president probably should be someone from outside of PSU. Erickson is similar to Tom Bradley, who held the football team together until Bill O'Brien was hired.

But Erickson, PSU's 17th president, has been the right guy at the right time. He has helped stabilize a most unstable situation, provide direction and lift morale. Which is as much as anyone could have hoped for when he ascended to the job.


7. Sandusky shined a floodlight on how widespread abuse is in the sports culture.

Among those widely accused of child sexual abuse in recent years, and in some cases convicted, are:

  • tennis legend Bob Hewitt
  • sports columnist Bill Conlin
  • longtime former Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine
  • longtime (47 years) Red Sox clubhouse manager Donald Fitzpatrick (convicted)
  • famed Canadian junior hockey coach Graham James (convicted)
  • AAU basketball president and CEO Bobby Dodd.

And that's just an abridged list of the semi-famous. Hundreds of towns and schools across America have similar stories on lesser-known but equally sickening levels, of coaches abusing kids.

Checks and balances must always be in place where children are under adult supervision, and the coach-player relationship, with its power dynamic, is particularly ripe for grooming for such abuse. No one should be above these checks and balances when kids cross paths with adults. But Sandusky's status as a legendary coach clearly played a role in his alleged acts.

Because of Sandusky, parents and administrators now are more alert. Background checks will be more thorough. No one will be exempted. Cracks in the system, where the cockroaches lurked, are being filled.

Abusers are finding the world a tougher place to operate in. And as was mentioned above, victims are reporting with increased frequency.

Fine, Conlin and Dodd's accusers all came forward post-Sandusky, as have many more Fitzpatrick accusers. Surely the Red Sox and all of Major League Baseball are much more proactive about abuse because of Fitzpatrick, just as college athletic departments are because of Sandusky. The positive ripple effects continue.


8. A tremendous awakening, uniting and spirited debate from the Penn State community - and a desire to overhaul the Board of Trustees

Spurred by Sandusky and buoyed by social media, Penn Staters by the tens of thousands have become re-engaged with the university.

The school now belongs a little more to the students, faculty/staff and alumni, and a little less to the tight confederacy of self-appointed big-timers at the top of the BOT totem pole, than it did last November.

Who knew the PSU Board of Trustees was so self-serving and misdirected, and had defectively designed the highest administrative levels of Penn State? Read the following from former BOT member Ben Novak for some alarming insight into the structure and operations of the Board:

Yes, surely some well-connected and super-involved Penn Staters (such as Novak) knew a lot about the Board's problematic culture. But the average alum had no idea.

What we knew was that the university seemed to be, by most traditionally meaningful measures, doing very well. And it was largely scandal free. And its leadership had been in place a long time.

So, the BOT must be doing a good job, eh? Uh, oops.

Last summer, then-president Spanier toured Florida, speaking in a few nice locales to large gatherings of alums. He spoke about the resounding success of the school's online degree programs, satellite campuses and alumni; about the continuing fiscal challenges due to the economy and state budget cuts; and about Penn State's inexorable march toward becoming a virtually private public university.

He did magic tricks for the first five minutes, perhaps 10 (no kidding). And at the end he fielded the inevitable, requisite questions about Joe Paterno's future.

It was hunky-dory. Copacetic.

Likely no one in the room, with the exception of Spanier, had any clue about the nuclear bomb set to detonate in November.

That explosion ultimately exposed the Board, and Penn Staters became engaged in the doings of the people representing their school. It took Sandusky to reveal the Board's fatal deficiencies, and the Board, with its bizarre communicative structure, surely helped abet Sandusky's abuse - a vicious cycle if there ever was.

Can Penn Staters sustain interest in reconfiguring and monitoring the Board? Will they pay attention long enough to actually change the Board from simply being another vehicle for a small cartel of extremely rich and power-hungry alums to exert their influence?

Time will tell.


9. Bill O'Brien 

Joe Paterno was 84 years old last football season. Penn State was going to need a new football coach very soon, Sandusky scandal or no Sandusky scandal.

The issue was addressed ad nauseam in this blog last September/October. The 2011 season was going to be Paterno's last, in all likelihood. Who would succeed him?

It wouldn't have been Bill O'Brien, that's for sure. Others such as Bradley, the longtime defensive coordinator, Greg Schiano, Kirk Ferentz and Al Golden were much stronger possibilities. All had a place in line far ahead of O'Brien.

The scandal changed all that and made O'Brien a viable candidate.

So what has happened since the relatively unknown and never-been-a-head-coach-before O'Brien was anointed JoePa's successor in early January? He has thus far proven himself perhaps the best man for the job.

Or at least as good as anyone out there. Anyone. Take your pick of the best of the best in football coaching - Jim Harbaugh, Nick Saban, Sean Payton, Urban Meyer (yes, he has become a total weenie, but he does have two national titles), Bob Stoops, Jon Gruden, Mack Brown, Pete Carroll, Mike Tomlin, Tom Coughlin, Tony Dungy, et al.

Who would have done better than O'Brien so far?

None of them. He has been magnificent. Superlative. And any other totally awesome adjective.

He might be the total package. We'll find out when he actually begins coaching football games. But he's great at everything else so far.

Bradley, the longtime PSU defensive coordinator, is an outstanding coach who did a commendable job in extraordinary circumstances as the interim coach at the end of last season. He would have been a good choice to succeed Paterno had things proceeded normally and Sandusky never happened.

O'Brien is better.

Now, O'Brien has got a long, long way to go. He'll be hard-pressed to match the on-field success of any of the aforementioned coaches. And he'll always be compared to the best ever, of course - Paterno. But he's got the chops, the gumption, the perspective, to make Penn State football exceptional again.


Penn State might not seem stronger yet, or better off, not with the Sandusky wound so raw.

Not with thoughts of alleged victims so fresh. And not with more Sandusky-related ugliness forthcoming - the trial, the release of the investigations, and anything and everything else (such as Mike McQueary's lawsuit against the school).

The scar will linger like it was inflicted with a branding iron.

But Penn State is stronger and better in some ways, even if it can't be recognized or acknowledged for awhile. Also, many other people and institutions not connected to Penn State are better as well, in some ways, because of Sandusky.

It can never undo what was done. But it is something, something good.


  1. Erickson was "so ready for the role". Really?? He was controllable so ready didn't matter. His lips move and the exec power group in the current board is speaking.

  2. You may be right about Erickson being largely under the control of the BOT power brokers, but IMO there's no denying he has comported himself well and helped to stabilize the university in an extremely difficult situation. Regardless, Erickson likely won't be there long. He'll step down after 2-3 years, and the selection, and selection process, of the next president will go a long way toward demonstrating if anything has changed with BOT operations.

  3. Three issues with this. First, Joe didn't make any "missteps" in his handling of the *hearsay* report, that was watered down by McQueary. He did *exactly* what he was supposed to do and what he *could* do both from a practical and a legal perspective. At the time the shower incident happened (when was that, exactly??), Joe was in the midst of several losing seasons and losing his brother. He was not "the most powerful man in PA" as his detractors state. Most wanted him fired because of the poor showing of the team on the field (although it was still exemplary off the field). Had Joe gone to some other police (as opposed to the University Police), they would have done nothing, and he could not have forced them to do more. He had days-old hearsay; the police are not going to act on that.

    Second, Joe *never* said he should have done more. He said that, with the benefit of hindsight, he *wished* he'd done more. The "hindsight" is always left out of his statement by media hacks and stupid people, and it's left out on purpose, because leaving it out makes Joe look bad. Intelligent, thinking people, though, know that when one says "in hindsight," it means that, *had he known then about Sandusky what he knows now -- the horrific extent of the allegations*, he wished he had tried to do more than he did. Given the story told to him by McQueary -- an adult showering with a child and it made McQueary uncomfortable and "appeared" sexual -- nothing illegal was reported to Joe that day. It is not illegal for an adult to shower with a child. Joe took it to people he believed could handle it better than he could. How is that a misstep???

    Third, Tom Bradley would have been GREAT. We did not need an outsider. This was not a Penn State Football scandal. The football program had absolutely nothing to do with Sandusky's actions other than the fact that his status as an emeritus gave him access to PSU facilities. Bill O'Brien may be great, and maybe he'll improve the field performance (but I'll remind you that from 2005 to 2010, the team under Joe had a 58-19 record and five BCS bowls, not exactly slacker), but you have no idea whether he will do it with the same integrity, attention to academics and the *total* person of each player, that made Penn State football great. I think it's a little early to declare O'Brien, who publicly declared that he viewed this job as a stepping stone to a HC job in the pros, the *best* choice. He has no demonstrable experience creating college programs that help build the *whole* person in the players. I would bet good money that, when he leaves (which I am certain will be within five years, of his own volition to take a pro job), few if any of his former players will expound on how much positive influence he had on their character and lives -- how much he made them better men, husbands, fathers, citizens -- the way hundreds if not thousands of men have said about Joe. Tom Bradley could have carried that torch, but the University turned its back on those who helped Joe make the football program the best in the nation regardless of its win/loss record.

  4. Re Paterno's misstep, it was not following up. He needed to follow up 1-2 years later with his superiors/PSU administrators, needed to ask "what was done about that?" Apparently, he never did, and he should have. McQueary had seen something so disturbing that it made him come directly to JoePa to report it, and JoePa recognized McQueary was very upset by what he had seen. JoePa should have followed up.

    Re Bradley, he did absolutely nothing wrong, he was a victim of horrible circumstances, he is a living example of life can be very unfair.

    Re O'Brien, you might be right. We'll see. But I DO have an idea that he will have integrity, prioritize academics and develop the total person, because everything he has done to date as PSU coach indicates as such, and everything that is known about his background indicates as such. Maybe he won't be as good at it as Paterno - who could be? - but he should be very good. We'll see, time will tell.

    I have never read anything about O'Brien referring to this job as a steppingstone to an HC job in the pros. Please post that link here, I would like to see it.

  5. While I am enjoying perusing your blog, I will say one thing:

    Re "Paterno's misstep."

    Uknown made the point that Joe Paterno did not say that "he could have done more." He said "In hindsight, I wish I had done more."

    That is very important to remember, and the key word: "Hindsight" is continually left out of the quote.

    In response, RFBS states that within 1-2 years "he should have done more." And that it was clear to Paterno that what McQueary saw upset him very badly.

    While I can see your point, it doesn't really matter what he "should have" done from our view on top of the mountain. What matters is why Paterno made the decision he did. The only clue we have of "why" is Paterno's statement that he thought that by asking around, he would be unnecessarily interfering with what should have been a criminal investigation. That it could be seen that he was influencing the outcome. From what we know about Paterno's reputation as a human being, he never really interfered with criminal matters. So at least that is consistent, and logically makes sense of why JoePa did not ask the necessary questions that is so apparent to us now that he should have asked.

    JoePa was not a God. He did not have the powers of foresight. He did not have mind-reading capabilities. Therefore, he made a very human mistake of assuming that the *POLICE* were handling the matter.

    Re the *POLICE:*

    It is also very important to remember the other players involved in the whole sordid affair, particularly the one man named "Schultz."

    Both Mike McQueary, and Mike's father John, testified, under oath during a Grand Jury hearing, that they thought that by going to Schultz, they WERE going to the police.

    Mr. Schultz, being the man who oversees campus police, a full-fledged police force, was thought of as part of the police. Obviously, that is factually incorrect. But it doesn't matter that it is factually incorrect that that Schultz was part of the police department. What matters, is the impression the people involved had of Schultz's job.

    If both McQueary men testified under oath that they thought going to Schultz amounted to going to the police, it is evidence that perhaps JoePa had the same impression.

    If Paterno had at least minimal knowledge of the 1998 investigation, this actually could reinforce the defense of Paterno not asking questions a year or two down the road. If Paterno knew SAndusky was previously under investigation, Paterno must have known the results of that investigation: That Sandusky did nothing illegal. This establishes the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" scenario. Combined with the fact that maybe Paterno thought there was a big-ole file on Sandusky down at the police station.

    As long as Schultz was informed of the situation, it is very likely that Paterno thought Schultz would contact those below him (the campus police!) and inform them of Sandusky's doings. From there, the police would have a file on Sandusky and they would determine whether Sandusky did anything illegal or not. It was not Joe Paterno's job to interfere into police work. He's a football coach, not a police detective.

    Therefore, the evidence points to the fact that Joe Paterno did *EXACTLY* what he should have done without the benefit of any sort of crazy supernatural abilities, nor at least training in police work.

  6. That Paterno "hindsight" quote in the blog has since been edited to make sure it is accurate. You are correct, it is very important to quote precisely.

    While I agree, to varying degrees, with most of what you say, and you say some interesting things, I disagree re: Paterno's follow-up. Not interference, but follow-up - find out months or perhaps even 1-2 years later what had become of this whole matter. As the head football coach, considering the allegation was against a longtime former employee (Sandusky) who still had access to the facilities and continued to have access to the facilities, and the allegation was made by a current employee (McQueary), and the alleged incident took place in the football facility showers, I think without question Paterno had the right and responsibility to follow-up perhaps a year later and inquire what had become of all this. Not involved in it, or interfering with it, or monitoring it, but at some date in the future finding out where things stood. He needed to follow-up, and he deserved an explanation/update from the powers-that-be (Schultz/Curley/Spanier) based on his position and connection to it. Whether he did so is not known. He did not say that he did. I hope this is something that is touched on in the Curley/Schultz trial, whether there was ever any follow-up with Paterno. We'll see. It's all such an epic tragedy.