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Linda Kenney Baden

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Joe Paterno, the Penn State Tragedy and Child Molestation

Posted: 11/11/11 10:13 AM ET

The apologists still insist that Coach Joe Paterno should not have been fired. Quite frankly, Joe Paterno is lucky if all he loses is his job. The statement of the Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly says Joe Paterno is not a target "at this point." He, and all in the sports world, should pay heed.

Not one story goes by without calling Joe Paterno 'Coach'. This tragedy is not about a 'Coach'. What some sportscasters, local fans, and a small but violent flash mob of Penn State students fail to realize is that this story is not about sports or sports legends. It is about serial child molestation. This story is not about first downs. It is about pedophilia. It is not about what happens to Joe Paterno. It is about rape. It is not about the legacy of a winning record in college football. It is about the life-long destruction to the children who have been molested, the families that have been destroyed, and the harm to society that has been generated by the failure to put children first and sports second at Penn State.

Joe Paterno knew Jerry Sandusky for decades. Joe Paterno worked with Jerry Sandusky for decades. At least by 1998, Joe Paterno knew Sandusky admitted to inappropriate contact with a child on the Penn State campus. Yet no one is taking responsibility for the harm that has been caused by the continued embracing of Jerry Sandusky by those who knew him best. Soon after the 1998 incident, Sandusky retired the following year in 1999 from Penn State. This close time-line itself raises questions. Did his retirement have anything to do with these allegations? Was there a hidden settlement, agreement, or resignation? Where is all the written documentation concerning the discussions that surrounded this incident? Ignoring the warning signs, Penn State and its agents gave Jerry Sandusky the golden key to paradise in- free reign to Paterno's sports kingdom where Sandusky could continue to molest young children under the guise of his charitable organization The Second Mile which he started allegedly to help young children. Do the movers and shakers of Penn State really want the public to believe that a close-knit sports organization did not engage in locker room talk about Jerry Sandusky and his sexual proclivities during this period and beyond? Make no mistake about it; Joe Paterno bears responsibility for all of the children that Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted. There are a lot of other people who also bear responsibility, however, that does not vitiate Joe Paterno's duties to the victimized children. This is only the beginning of the story not the end.

In 1998, Victim 6 (the first victim delineated in terms of time in the recent grand Jury report) shared a shower with Sandusky and a second child. Victim 6 's mother called the police and Sandusky gave what was clearly a confession. Sandusky merely had to agree to no longer shower with children and the investigation was closed. Here is another huge breakdown of the system in this story. According to the grand jury presentment the Pennsylvania agency charged with protecting children -- Children and Youth Services -- closed the investigation. So did the then prosecutor Ray Gricar whose subsequent mysterious disappearance takes on new implications. Even adding to the concern of system breakdown, are reports that the attorney who represented Penn State in this 1998 investigation is now the attorney for The Second Mile charity started by Jerry Sandusky.

The University, in order to obtain federal funds, is supposed to report to the government all crimes that occur on campus -- not adjudicated crimes but reports of alleged crimes so that students can be warned about dangerous incidents connected to the school. This is much like the theory behind Megan's Law -- sex offenders are identified and tracked to as to reduce the danger that they will commit an assault upon another person -- adult and child. This reporting requirement of the CLERY Act is even wider than that for Megan's law in one aspect -- it is for crimes reported on campus -- not merely adjudicated in the criminal court system. This federal law enacted after another tragedy at another Pennsylvania college where a young woman named Jeanne Clery was raped and then killed by a second student on campus. Was any criminal act by Jerry Sandusky reported? Unfortunately, the University only has to keep those records for seven years so we may never know the answer to this question. And the delay in finding the answer is directly related to the delay by Penn State and Joe Paterno in properly reporting Jerry Sandusky to the police.

All in all it sounds as if there are many people who at least morally if not legally aided and abetted Sandusky's reign of child molestation. Can a criminal case now be made beyond beyond Sandusky and the two Penn State officials accused of lying to the grand jury? Was there a violation of the federal RICO/racketeering act? A cover-up? Who else knew and facilitated this criminal enterprise to continue? And what about Jerry Sandusky's wife- did she know or suspect?

We owe it to the victims to find the answers. We need to make the victims feel safe; to self-identify themselves beyond those who had the strong will to talk to law enforcement. If there are eight identified victims, there are probably a lot more young men out there who bear the scars of these assaults. All victims need to be found and given any help they may need. It is well known that victims of child molestation may have severe problems in their lives -- emotionally and otherwise. Some can even become pedophiles themselves.

And finally let's discuss the NCAA. The president of that organization maintains this situation is outside their purview until the facts are established. Really? Where is their outrage? An organization as powerful and all encompassing as the NCAA, who recently found a USC student athlete guilty of getting an impermissible benefit by riding in a golf cart for five minutes between buildings says they are powerless to address the issue of pedophilia in college locker rooms. There is a lot of disbelief surrounding this saga and the apparent willful impotence that allowed it to happen in the first place. It doesn't end because people in authority continue to put their heads in sports sand. At least the Penn State Board of Trustees fired Paterno. They are acting late but at least they are finally acting.

 

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