Bernstein: Penn State Guilty Pleas A Small Step Toward Sanity

By Dan Bernstein

After five years and nearly a quarter-billion dollars paid in settlements and fines stemming from the child-rape scandal that devastated and shamed Penn State University, one would think that the time and money would be enough.

Enough to convince those still pining for some alternate reality to end their sick and insulting quest to restore the ruined name of their former coach, enough to end the simmering fight over the restoration of his statue, and enough to awaken them to the fact that they are cruelly re-victimizing so many who suffered.

At some point, however, a vocal faction inside and around the school chose to move in the other direction, casting themselves as the real victims of a massive conspiracy at the hands of a vast and nebulous cabal of enemies bent on attacking them. Despite mountains of evidence that Joe Paterno and school officials abetted decades of violent crimes against children by protecting and enabling Jerry Sandusky within the football program, some trustees and alumni have embraced wild theories to convince themselves that almost none of it actually happened.

That’s why the movement to return a statue continues, and that’s how they ended up deciding to officially laud Paterno at a game last September, inviting widespread national derision for such unique tone-deafness. As USA Today‘s Christine Brennan wrote at the time, “in what is believed to be a first in the history of college football, a university will hold a game-day ceremony to honor the enabler of a child rapist.”

Their tight echo-chamber of fever dreams results in decisions like this, and fuels the ongoing efforts to make facts disappear and events evaporate, actual victims be damned.

So it matters that two of the three school administrators charged with crimes in the scandal have now — finally — admitted guilt. Former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz have pleaded guilty to child endangerment, each accepting a lesser charge than they originally faced in exchange. Former president Graham Spanier still awaits trial on felony charges for failing to act to stop Sandusky, and some experts now expect the other two to testify against him.

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The fact that this is real, tangible and definitive is significant in the face of continuing and increasingly crazed insistence that either something else or nothing at all took place that ruined the reputations of Paterno and Penn State. It is unspeakable wrongdoing, with more names now entered into the criminal record alongside Jerry Sandusky as his facilitators.

The emails unearthed that show the evil calculations between the men also involve Paterno clearly and obviously, as does extensive testimony from witnesses and victims in multiple cases, both criminal and civil. The guilty pleas are just further confirmation that we saw what we thought we saw and heard what we thought we heard from the outset, a group of cowardly and powerful men that would rather knowingly allow boys to be raped than threaten the standing of a college football team.

That’s all it ever was, and Joe Paterno was fired for good and real reasons, his name appropriately and forever destroyed.

The guilt of his bosses will not be sufficient on its own to stamp out the remaining insanity that burns so noxiously in the Penn State community. But when it comes to forcing bad people to understand what they are still doing to victims, anything helps.

Dan Bernstein is senior columnist on CBS Chicago and co-host of “Boers & Bernstein” on Chicago’s 670 The Score.

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