By Dan Bernstein
For more than 40 years, the football program at Penn State was used as part of a vast victim farm for child-rapist Jerry Sandusky.
The entrenched assistant coach raped young boys on campus, in football buildings and athletic facilities, and even trafficked them across state lines for bowl games. He groomed them with gifts of sports equipment and access to the team, all while ostensibly helping them via his carefully constructed “charity” known as the Second Mile, which was linked inextricably to Penn State football.
The man in charge of the team was Joe Paterno, who despite being aware of what his trusted lieutenant was doing since at least 1976, never cared enough to stop it. For his years of inaction that facilitated widespread child rape under the cover of his program, he was finally fired in 2011. His statue was removed from outside the stadium in 2012, cited by the school as “an obstacle to healing.”
Two hundred of Paterno’s former players now want the statue restored, despite the 32 officially recognized victims who have been paid a total of $93 million in settlements from civil lawsuits. The lettermen have petitioned the university, complaining about “an undeserved media frenzy” and a “false narrative” that they feel has victimized them and the Paterno family. These players believe they are the ones who have somehow been wronged, rather than the boys whose lives Sandusky ruined under the knowing protection of coach Paterno.
This is just the latest public eruption of the festering madness infecting the school, as Paterno cultists within the board of trustees itself continue an unfortunate propaganda campaign in a vain attempt to make decades of rapes un-happen. Such wild truther-ism has found traction in central Pennsylvania, enough to entice Donald Trump to court them at a recent campaign event. Indeed, a Public Policy Polling poll in the state finds strong correlation between those who support Trump and still venerate Paterno, indicating a special combination of white, male, angry and stupid — all too fertile ground for dangerous, willful ignorance.
These 200 players may be proud of their respective Penn State educations, but sadly, it would seem they can’t read.
If they could, they would have known about the boy who informed Paterno of Sandusky’s crimes in 1976. They would look at Paterno’s statements in depositions and his sworn testimony. They’d see emails and read stories about Paterno’s halfhearted attempts to send Sandusky away, and how he eventually removed him from the staff, all while the rapes of boys continued unchecked.
This letter is a vile and direct affront to Sandusky’s victims, with these players attempting to use their standing within the football program as some kind of positive status, despite its complicity in harboring Sandusky for years. The playing days for the letter’s signatories spans from the 1950s through the 2010s, covering entirely Sandusky’s time on campus, which began in 1963.
These players don’t care that for nearly half a century, Penn State football incubated child rape. Joe Paterno was Penn State football, and it was okay with him that his program was being used by a serial predator to abet and shield violent crimes.
Rational people outside this troubled community will never understand the psychological pathology that continues to drive efforts to create a more palatable alternate history. Some seem to need Penn State football and Paterno to once again be whatever mythical, idealized version became so important to their own sense of self-worth, instead of what they both were found to be. These 200 players are representative of a wide swath of fans unable to reconcile what happened there with whatever part of their identity required a college football team to be something fictionally benevolent.
The good news, though, is that 200 does not account for everyone who lettered at Penn State for Paterno. There are those who get it, and want to dissent strongly in an effort to let people know that there are still islands of sanity in this sea of craziness.
“I would never put my name on something like that,” one prominent former player said. “I feel terrible about what happened, and I understand completely why Joe Paterno had to be fired and the statue removed. We have a responsibility to confront these misdeeds, not hide from them with outlandish conspiracy theories and fantasies of mistreatment by outsiders.”
“There are real victims here, and we are not them.”