If you are interested, appalled, fascinated, or nauseous from paying attention to the Happy Valley horrors of Jerry Sandusky then you’ve read a lot of opinions and events; But not this one. Even now people are drawing lines in the sand and placing the guilty (Sandusky, Paterno, Spanier, Curley, Schultz) and the innoncent on opposite sides. But it’s a very blurry line of innocence, and the guilty side deserves one more member: Penn State Football.
This was a program that operated under the mantra “Success and Honor”, while feeding a monster rather than have anyone outside its beautiful rolling hills notice its hideous practices.
As someone that was very close to a football program, I can vouch for the lack of privacy. A program is a family, and a family doesn’t hide its secrets well. You know which coaches are cheating on their wives, you know which players are addicted to pain killers, you know which trainers are getting them their pain killers, and you would most certainly not miss the creepy 6-3 boisterous coordinator walking around with little boys. I didn’t.
Since I was old enough to like football I made a yearly trip up to Happy Valley to visit the school that my family attended and worshiped. In high school when I took up the sport I was lucky enough to attend their Nike camps every summer, and when I showed enough promise I was separated into a group to be closely watched by current Penn State coaches including Tom Bradley, Dick Anderson and Mike McQueary, but also Jerry Sandusky. You couldn’t attend the camp without an impression of coach Sandusky.
He was large, loud a tornado of jovial aggressiveness. He ran around from drill to drill screaming directions and encouragement at prospects he didn’t know. But at the same time, athletes at the camp witnessed a certain strangeness. He didn’t mirror our enthusiastic football coaches back home, nor Coaches Bradley, Anderson or McQueary; he was more like that guy your parents told you never to talk to at the town pool. There was something about his eyes or the way he moved his mouth when he talked; you knew he was a defensive genius that led Penn State to multiple National Championships, but you also rather he didn’t know your name.
At the camp’s commencement he dressed as Darth Vader and had a lightsaber battle with the equipment manager Brad Caldwell (The Spider) – but what alerted my “spidersense” even more was the little boys that would follow him around during the camp. At my first camp I thought he had a very young son, and the attention he paid the child made sense. It wasn’t until my second camp that one of the sons was black, and I knew something else was up. He could have been just a quirky older man whovolunteered his time with children – but those kids usually enjoy their “big brothers” don’t they? From the naked eye, these kids did not. Despite running around the camp like a crazed lunatic, Sandusky made sure to usher (what we now understand were) his victims around at his hip. They were at breakfast with him, they were at dinner with him, they were in the football facility with him – and everyone there knew he was a creepshow within the week. When a full grown adult is rolling around tackling dummies and touching little kids that aren’t his, people notice. The Penn State football program noticed a lot more than us campers, enough to make a difference, and yet it was easier to ignore the children in Sandusky’s company.
I was only at Penn State a combined four weeks in four years but I realized something was “off” with Jerry Sandusky. And I am not Sherlock Holmes. Every player, coach, trainer, and janitor that surrounded the Penn State program got a much closer view of Jerry Sandusky than I ever did; And yet this monster in plain sight prayed on defenseless children for over a decade (that we know of). I don’t think that everyone close to the program had the same eyewitness view that Coach McQueary did in the showers of the football facility – but the programs guilt didn’t die with Joe Paterno and won’t be jailed with Jerry Sandusky. In a locker room full of large 18-22 year old men, you notice the 8 year old’s with their heads down.