Sandusky, former assistant Penn State football coach convicted of serial pedophilia, is a nonentity who capitalized on the aura of greatness surrounding the team coached by the late Paterno.
This is hardly to minimize the psychic scars left forever on kids who were sexually abused by Sandusky both at Penn State and his Second Mile children’s charity. Their humiliation and shame will haunt them the rest of their lives.
But the real villain is Paterno. He tolerated pedophilia for “the greater glory” of his team. He wanted no scandal marring its lofty prestige. He refused to fire Sandusky, turning a blind eye to blatant criminality.
Paterno flunked the character test. Character is not just winning football games. Character is stopping evil when you can. Paterno did not.
He became a monument in fact and a metaphor for the Nittany Lions. He was not just venerated, he was Penn State.
But the case is more than that of a fallen idol. The Sandusky scandal illustrates the corruption of college football, the coachly credo of “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
Therefore, any purported legend connected with Paterno’s name is impossible. He put his team ahead of the lifetime wounds inflicted on youngsters.
The jurors in the trial in Bellefonte, Pa., convicted Sandusky of what USA Today called “an avalanche of guilty verdicts” for raping and molesting boys for 15 years.
Bellefonte, in central Pennsylvania 10 miles from the Penn State campus, has a population of 6,000. It is a quintessential American small town with an Elk’s Lodge, a Loyal Order of Moose hall, a Rexall drugstore and a Hot Dog House.
The jury included Penn State fans and ticket holders. Nevertheless, it found for justice rather than football prowess. It had no sympathy for the monster of Happy Valley, convicting Sandusky of 45 of 48 counts, which means life in jail.
A woman in the crowd outside the Bellefonte courthouse shrieked the terrible truth when the guilty verdict was announced: “You sick bastard!”
The trial testimony was lurid by kids, now adults, abused by Sandusky. One horror story followed another of being sodomized and brutalized.
Showering, soaping, slapping, hugging, wrestling and then maneuvering kids to the floor. There Sandusky made them kiss his thighs, give him oral sex and attempt anal sex.
The disgusting details piled up. Grinding against little boys in a shower and blowing on their stomachs. On trips to bowl games Sandusky shared rooms with boys and groped them under the covers.
One accuser testified that Sandusky called himself the “tickle monster” during a shower assault. Sandusky even abused one of his adopted sons, Matt Sandusky.
The prosecutor, Joseph McGettigan, said Sandusky exhibited the classic behavior of a predatory pedophile, lavishing attention, favors and gifts on kids to gain their confidence.
Yet there was Sandusky in court during the two-week trial, laughing and reminiscing with friends.
The scene made Maureen Dowd, New York Times columnist, “want to take a shower.”
Dottie Sandusky, a loyal wife for 45 years, was one of those people who “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.” She chose to ignore the ignominy that was obvious.
Once when a boy in their house screamed while being raped, Mrs. Sandusky testified that she never heard yelling. When asked about her husband’s frequent trips to the basement, she primly replied that he went down “just to say goodnight.”
One positive result of the Sandusky case is that 13 states have passed laws requiring strict reporting of pedophilia. One of them, Florida, makes failure to report child abuse a felony, subjecting universities to a $1 million fine if they fail to do so.
Penn State authorities are seeking to counter any potential lawsuits by offering monetary settlements to Sandusky victims. They obviously want to avoid continuing embarrassment.
The Penn State alma mater includes the ringing words: “May no act of ours bring shame/To one heart that bears thy name.”
Paterno and Sandusky brought shame to Penn State.
Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. He is a 1953 Penn State journalism graduate. As a senior he knew Paterno, then an assistant coach, while covering the football team for the college newspaper. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.