Years ago, when Jerry Sandusky would come to Chattanooga on summer vacation with his wife whose family lives here, I would play golf with him, tell stories, eat lunch and marvel at a goodness he created with his charity outreach for children, “The Second Mile.” Since I was a sports writer, we knew a lot of the same people and he was delicious fun as the defensive mastermind for Joe Paterno’s fabled Nittany Lions.
So I am still in shock as I learn a Pennsylvania jury has found him guilty on 45 of 48 counts of sexual abuse, most involving the kids from his nationally-acclaimed Second Mile charity, and I am somewhat horrified by the fact he, who turned out to be such a depraved monster, was once my friend.
I think of the kids who played for him in Happy Valley, who for 31 years bought into the program and into Jerry himself in a way that produced one championship season after another, and how each must have felt in the end when the scandal came crashing down in such a way the president would resign, JoePa would be fired and soon die, and the school itself would become embroiled in such a hell no one could have ever predicted.
I agree with Sports Illustrated, whose headlines called it “The Greatest Scandal Even In College Sports,” and while it will take years to overcome the evil that just one man brought to bear – Sandusky – I am comforted by the fact Penn State remains as one of the greatest institutions of higher learning in the world.
The greatest victims, of course, are the young boys who were sexually ravaged by the deranged Sandusky and the greatest villains, outside this Mr. Jeckle-Dr. Hyde who fooled so many of us, are the administrators who swept it under the rug or put it away in private files so the torment could last 15 years.
Joe Paterno, who I consider one of the finest coaches and, far more, “molders of men” I have ever known, had to know more than he ever told. The fact he later lamented, “I should have done,” speaks volumes but the possibility Sandusky might had then added a victim or two makes such a statement unforgiveable.
Sadly, I believe Paterno should have been fired if the sequence of events that experts have drawn is true. Nobody nor any circumstance can condone child abuse, much less a sexual predator, and for a man with the stature of Paterno to use his influence to dampen an investigation is, indeed, a criminal act, much less a firing offense.
Today Sandusky is where he should have been from the very beginning – jail. If he gets the maximum charges for the 45 counts, he will be sentenced to 420 years. If he gets the minimum, the 68-year-old will most definitely die in prison. Understandably, he is currently in solitary confinement and under suicide watch.
As for the victims, Penn State has already issued a statement they want to end the ordeal as fast as possible. "The purpose of the program is simple - the university wants to provide a forum where the university can privately, expeditiously and fairly address the victims' concerns and compensate them for claims relating to the university," a statement read.
Some legal experts say the university is ducking the usual “three D” approach – deny, delay, defend – and may offer settlements up to $1 million to each victim to get the matter quickly resolved. Three legal proceedings by victims have already been initiated.
Sentencing for Sandusky will take one to two months. Since he is not in poor health, he will likely be assigned to a general population prison but, due to the nature of his crime and his notoriety, he is expected to be kept in a segregated area in the early stages.
Wherever he is assigned he will represent the greatest scandal in the history of college sports and to those of us who have known him, the big question – why – will never be answered.