Could This Happen Anywhere?

By Elika on July 27, 2012 at 1:05p

Over the past nine months, the world has watched the development of what's been called the biggest scandal in the history of college football. What's happened at Penn State, however, is actually much greater than that. It's the single biggest scandal in the history of sports, period. In fact, everything we've learned about the past 14 years in State College, over the past nine months, has redefined what a sports scandal can be. It's sickening.

Since November, I've been rather outspoken regarding most aspects of the Jerry Sandusky case, and the resulting aftermath at Penn State. This approach doesn't always win friends, but it does provide for some incredibly thought-provoking discussions over time. It seems one question that has come up rather often in these conversations has been, "Could this have happened somewhere else?" Those that ask are well aware they're asking someone with Ohio State affiliations, so I would imagine what they're really asking is, "Could this have happened in Columbus, at Ohio State?" It's a fair question to ask.

At first glance, there are many similarities between Penn State and Ohio State. Namely, that each has a top football program with a proud history, a large stadium, a passionate fan base, and prominent figures throughout their narratives. In fact, my first reaction to the question was to say, "Of course, it could happen anywhere!" Let's be honest, pedophilia isn't caused by something in the State College water. Sandusky's vicious crimes happen in every neighborhood, every day. 

In stepping back and examining further, however, the Penn State scandal isn't just about the heinous acts committed by one monster at the football facilities on Penn State's campus. What escalated Sandusky's dreadful crimes to the point of being the worst scandal in the history of sports, had much more to do with years of coverup, at multiple levels, by multiple people.

As atrocious as Sandusky's acts were, it was the inaction of so many others that led us to the point. And it's easy to blame the coverup of Sandusky's crimes on a frenzied football culture, which Ohio State also has. So, how did they get here? And, since child molestation and rape do happen everywhere, unfortunately, what allowed it to continue in Happy Valley for as long as it did?

As mentioned before, and as Mark Emmert repeatedly addressed during his press conference, Penn State has a rather fanatical football culture, but I beg to differ that a community buying into its football program is the sole catalyst here. Ohio State, Alabama, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oregon all have a frenzied culture as well. Could any one of those schools, or any others around the country, have a pedophile on their coaching staff? Absolutely. What Sandusky did, could absolutely happen anywhere. It's awful, but it's true.

The entire situation, on the other hand, couldn't happen just anywhere. The perfect storm just happened to be brewing in State College. In addition to a criminal on its coaching staff, a top football program, and a frenzied football culture, Penn State had nothing keeping its leader in check. No real bosses, no real threat of being told what to do, and most importantly... no turnover. Paterno's apologists will tell you that the media paints a picture of him as someone who ran the school, and they'll claim that isn't true, but that is laughable.

Joe Paterno coached at Penn State for 61 years, 46 of those years as a head coach. We all realize how long Paterno had been there, but to really put that into perspective, among current NCAA Division I FBS head coaches in BCS conferences, the ten most tenured coaches average less than 13 years at their current positions.

Paterno's tenure at Penn State not only racked up hundreds of victories, it elevated his control over the university to the point where in 2004, when asked for his resignation, Paterno simply said "Nah, I'm good. I think I'll stay. Thanks for coming," before kicking his supposed "bosses" out of his home. Where else could this happen?

Frank Beamer is the longest tenured active head coach, having coached at Virginia Tech since 1987. Would Virginia Tech allow Beamer to pull such a stunt? Of course not. I'd venture to guess that there isn't another college football program in the country that would allow themselves to be bullied by their head coach.

Imagine, for a moment, that Paterno had the decency to use his dictator status at Penn State to speak up for the victims that couldn't speak up for themselves. Would this have happened?

Imagine for a moment, that the adminstrators at Penn State didn't care if Paterno felt it was more humane to keep Sandusky's behavior internal. Would this have continued?

Imagine that Paterno hadn't become this larger than life figure, and in a way done the same for Sandusky, so that a group of janitors wouldn't have been so scared to report something that as human beings we shoud have an obligation to report. Would this have stopped?

Imagine Mike McQueary walked in on a man raping a child, only this monster wasn't a man he's looked up to since he was a child. Would he have done more to stop it, than just slamming a locker loudly?

Over decades, Paterno created a mirage that Penn State was about "success with honor." It served him well, for awhile. For awhile, he was the winningest coach in college football. For awhile, he was a legend. For awhile, he was a hero. And for awhile, Penn State was held hostage and more victims were abused.

I used to wish I was able to experience the days of legendary coaches that were so closely associated with the programs they led, such as Woody Hayes, Bear Bryant, and even Bo Schembechler. It was romantic, in a way, but perhaps it's not so bad that the sport has moved on.

If you know of or suspect child abuse, please call the anonymous hotline at: 1-800-4-A-CHILD.

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