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The Shame in Happy Valley

Posted on Nov 7, 2011
AP / Carolyn Kaster

Penn State head coach Joe Paterno faces reporters in this 2007 file photo. Paterno’s long and celebrated career may end in scandal.

By Eugene Robinson

Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno said, “I did what I was supposed to.” In fact, nobody at Penn State did what basic human decency requires—and as a result, according to prosecutors, an alleged sexual predator who could have been stopped years ago was allowed to continue molesting young boys.

The arrest Saturday of former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on felony child sex abuse charges, involving at least eight victims, has sent university officials scrambling to justify a pattern of self-serving inattention and inaction.

University Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley also face charges—for failing to report what they knew about Sandusky and for allegedly perjuring themselves before a grand jury. Both proclaim their innocence. After an emergency meeting of the Board of Trustees, it was announced that the two officials would be stepping away from their jobs.

Penn State President Graham Spanier has said that Schultz and Curley have his “unconditional support.” If he believes the way they acted was right, or even remotely acceptable, then he needs to go, too—as does Paterno, who can only destroy his legacy by hanging on and trying to excuse the inexcusable.

Assuming that even half of what Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly alleges is true, Sandusky is a patient and calculating pedophile who used his insider status with the glamorous Penn State football program to lure boys as young as 10. Sandusky allegedly met his victims through The Second Mile, a charity he founded that provides programs for troubled—and vulnerable—youth.

The investigation that led to the charges was launched in 2009 after the mother of a boy—a Second Mile participant—reported allegations of sexual assault to officials at a high school where Sandusky, now 67, volunteered. But Penn State officials knew at least 11 years earlier that there were disturbing questions about physical contact between Sandusky and young boys.

In 1998, Sandusky was famous in the college football world as the defensive wizard who gave Penn State the nickname “Linebacker U,” and he was often mentioned as Paterno’s likely successor.

That year, the university police department conducted what a grand jury report calls a “lengthy investigation” of allegations that Sandusky had hugged, rubbed against and inappropriately touched two 11-year-old boys while they were naked with him in the showers of a Penn State locker room.

Detectives listened in while the mother of one of the boys called Sandusky to confront him. According to the grand jury report, Sandusky told her: “I understand. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.”

The local district attorney declined to prosecute, and the investigation was closed. Paterno was Sandusky’s immediate boss, and Curley was Paterno’s. Perhaps all who were involved did, in the narrowest sense, what they were “supposed to.” But imagine how much better it would have been if someone had done the right thing and taken that 1998 incident seriously—better for the victims, but also better for the university’s reputation and ultimately better for Sandusky himself.

It gets much worse: In 2002, after Sandusky had retired—although he still had an office and enjoyed the run of the Penn State athletic facilities—a football team “graduate assistant” saw Sandusky raping a young boy in the showers, according to the grand jury report.

The assistant—widely identified in news reports as Mike McQueary, a former Penn State quarterback who is now the team’s wide receivers coach—told Paterno what he had seen. Paterno told Curley. The assistant was eventually summoned to a meeting with Curley and Schultz at which he says he described the rape in graphic detail.

The two officials claim they were only told about behavior that was “not that serious.” They took it seriously enough, however, to decree that Sandusky could no longer bring Second Mile children into the football building.

But they “never attempted to learn the identity of the child in the shower,” according to the grand jury. “No one from the university did so.”


According to the grand jury, the assistant, Paterno, Curley, Schultz and Spanier all knew about the incident. Each covered his own behind. None lifted a finger to find out who the victim was or what had become of him.

Tell us again how you did everything you were supposed to do?

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group


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oddsox's avatar

By oddsox, November 10, 2011 at 2:59 pm Link to this comment

..afraid things are gonna get a whole lot uglier now

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By Inherit The Wind, November 10, 2011 at 12:00 pm Link to this comment

Interesting, even the former quarterback who witnessed this rape apparently didn’t even intervene, but let this older man go on forcibly sodomizing this child, who was probably torn and bleeding from his rectum.

Neither did the janitor.

What is wrong with people?

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By berniem, November 10, 2011 at 11:03 am Link to this comment

Just another glaring example of conservative “values” viz-a-viz wealth and status.

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By kazy, November 10, 2011 at 10:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

SoTexGuy, you wrote: “I’ll wager if that ‘man’ had been observed fornicating with underage girls, not boys, he would have been fired, disgraced and jailed.”

I could not disagree with you more. There is far more outrage when young boys are defiled by men than when girls are. Females have been abused and victimized by men for thousands of years to the point now when there are any allegations or charges brought forth, those females are laughed at, ridiculed and basically told to STFU and get let men be men. After all it is their playground we all live in and they have important work to do and do not want to be interrupted with unimportant disruptions that prevent them from doing their important work. Society is so desensitized to the brutality women experience at the hands of powerful men to the point some believe women deserve it. However, the sexual defilement of a male brings out the inherent homophobia of our culture that conjures up images of demasculating males. Men being humiliated and degraded like a submissive woman is something that raises the hackles of our society far more than seeing females being raped.

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By Paul McGuire, November 10, 2011 at 7:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Football coaches, known the world around for paying
attention to the little details and following up on
them, either hand off a great big one or punt it away -
what a sad irony.

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By do over, November 10, 2011 at 3:25 am Link to this comment

Sexual abuse by Coaches is widespread, yet they become Principals and Superintendents and run our schools.  What a Country !

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Project Mayhem's avatar

By Project Mayhem, November 9, 2011 at 9:03 am Link to this comment

I second Blueokie, who absolutely nailed it on the head. Well said, Sir.

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By Fearless, November 9, 2011 at 8:55 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

College football is the true American pastime: achievement ethic, profit, and privilege at the expense of human decency. I will remember to bite my tongue as my Cornhuskers visit Happy Valley this weekend. Our Sears Trophies reek of Violence against Women.

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By rickroberts, November 9, 2011 at 7:14 am Link to this comment

My understanding is that McGreary will be working Saturday’s game.

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By Rodney, November 8, 2011 at 8:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Anybody and everybody who knew what was going on needs
to be fired. Point Blank!

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By grokker, November 8, 2011 at 7:42 pm Link to this comment

Other than Sandusky, the real jerk loser here is Paterno. If he had called the cops, he would have been seen as a hero by most, and Penn States reputation would not suffer as bad as he figured it would. He is THE name behind Penn State football. Unfortunately, everyone buried this incident to protect their jobs and his legacy. The way I see it, it was Paterno’s negligence that caused suffering for more of these kids down the line.

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By JohnQ, November 8, 2011 at 7:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There’s also a report of janitor viewing Sandusky raping an 11 year old boy in the
showers in 2000. He reported the incident and was basically told to shut his

What’s even more shocking is that Sandusky was still walking around the locker
room at Penn State last week.

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By rumblingspire, November 8, 2011 at 6:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

my first thought is that Curley and Schultz had reasons other than the universities reputation when they failed to to speak up; especially when told of the incident that McQueary saw.

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Blueokie's avatar

By Blueokie, November 8, 2011 at 3:44 pm Link to this comment

Penn State football is a huge money maker, I think home games bring in
something like $50 mil per game.  Paterno, have revealed themselves to be
amoral hacks as bad as any on Wall Street, or the Catholic hierarchy.  Anything for
the bucks and above all, protect the bucks.  Paterno, the coaching staff, those in
the Athletic Dept. who are shown to be complicit in this atrocity should be
prosecuted the same as if they were involved in child pornography or child
prostitution, since that is the moral equivalence of their actions and non actions.

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By Shorebreak, November 8, 2011 at 2:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Instead of being honorable, the athletic heierarchy at PSU, including legendary coach Joe Paterno, decided to cover the filthy incident up. That never works, and now they all will be leaving under a dark cloud, or even prosecuted, for their immoral malfeasance of duty as school officials.

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By traynorjf, November 8, 2011 at 2:06 pm Link to this comment

Nothing like ‘team spirit’ to get you into a hell of a lot of trouble.

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By Melanie, November 8, 2011 at 12:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why wasn’t McQuery held accountable and arrested? I mean, you walk in on a child being raped and you think it’s okay just to say something to the perpetrator’s boss? He should have gone directly to the police, although, given the fact that zero happened to Sandusky in 1998, he probably would have still not been prosecuted.

This is a glaring example of how rape culture permeates every single aspect of our society.

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By Phyllis Bradshaw, November 8, 2011 at 12:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Often, when the problem is macro in scope, it is helpful to go to the micro level to analyze it.  The problem can then be looked at from all angles and therefore seems more manageable.  Sexual abuse is such a problem.  When I read commentaries such as this one, I am struck by the fact that the author did not go deeper to report about what prevented each individual from doing what they were “supposed” to do.  Until or unless someone does take an in-depth look at the fears that prevented these people from doing what they were supposed to do, we will never get to the bottom of this problem.  Did they fear for their jobs?  Why did they fear for their jobs?  Did the person above them fear for their job?  Did they fear they would end up in jail like Perry Dunlop?  It doesn’t take a genius to put the pieces together and figure out that the problem goes to the top.  What is at the top?  Money and power.  What does sexual abuse have to do with money and power?  Come on, people, we can figure this out.  But do we want to?  It might cost us our lives.

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By SoTexGuy, November 8, 2011 at 11:56 am Link to this comment

It already is an obligation of education professionals to report abuse or suspected abuse of kids. If the Penn State people knew nearly as much as the article claims.. they should forfeit their positions and face criminal prosecution.

I’ll wager if that ‘man’ had been observed fornicating with underage girls, not boys, he would have been fired, disgraced and jailed.

Why were his homosexual attacks on juveniles accepted or just covered up?

Good question!


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By ReadingJones, November 8, 2011 at 11:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Penn State and the State of Pennsylvania should be
held to the same standards of justice as the various
religious institutions that have been sued into
bankruptcy for the same sorts of coverup.Where iis a
good lawyer when we need one.

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By L2k4FC, November 8, 2011 at 9:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

These males had a chance to make a stand and they chose the way of the coward.  These are not men and they deserve no quarter.

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mrfreeze's avatar

By mrfreeze, November 8, 2011 at 8:52 am Link to this comment

caped amigo - This tragic drama doesn’t just apply to the men involved at Penn State…...This type of abuse is not only accepted but encouraged all the way to the top of our society. Remember Abu Graib? One of the 1st things that came out of Rumsfeld’s mouth was “oh, this stuff happens all the time….just a little ‘hazing’ going on.” Of course, the media “pretended” to report the outrage over the actions of “a few bad apples.” But what so surprised me was the “lack” of outrage by the American people. Ultimately, we don’t really expect the presidential candidate, the CEO, the boss, the “coach” or other authority figure to be held accountable for abuse (sexual or otherwise).

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caped amigo's avatar

By caped amigo, November 8, 2011 at 8:41 am Link to this comment

This tragic drama speaks to the core values of the men involved at Penn State. I
have long admired Joe, but he was seriously remiss and guilty of complicity in this
They must all step down. To allow the “beat to go on” without ramifications sends
the wrong message to a country already sinking from hypocrisy.

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thecrow's avatar

By thecrow, November 8, 2011 at 5:39 am Link to this comment

“Autumn is always a time of Fear and Greed and Hoarding for the winter coming on. Debt collectors are active on old people and fleece the weak and helpless. They want to lay in enough cash to weather the known horrors of January and February. There is always a rash of kidnapping and abductions of school children in the football months. Pre-teens of both sexes are traditionally seized and grabbed off the streets by gangs of organized Perverts.”

- Hunter S. Thompson

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By Alessandra, November 8, 2011 at 2:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Will this scandal prompt people in every other state to reform their laws to make it obligatory for anyone who witnesses or suspects sexual abuse to report it to the police? (there are plenty of states which are like PA). And the law must be retroactive too to make it mandatory for anyone to report abuse they have witnessed in the past, IMO.

Unless people act in concrete measures, simply punishing two or three individuals will change nothing for other victims out there.

And don’t you think there is something terribly wrong with the law, when after aiding and abetting in the sexual abuse of countless children, all that happens to these criminal individuals is that they RESIGN from some freaking job? To go on vacation using their millions of dollars, no doubt.

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