Recently, American media has been inundated with scathing reports concerning the extreme indiscretions of State College legend Jerry Sandusky, the ex Defensive Coordinator for the Nittany Lions. Currently facing 40 counts of sexual harassment, molestation, abuse, and rape against multiple young boys between the ages of 7-15, based off of multiple eye-witness accounts, and victim testimonies, the emergence of Jerry Sandusky’s perverted and twisted actions has plunged an entire culture into disaster.
Many people are familiar with the unique culture of State College and its inhabitants, many of whom “bleed blue and white”, and Sandusky’s case has received national headline attention. However, for me at least, no account truly does this story justice better than that of a lifetime member of the Penn State Proud. My current roommate, and good friend, was born and raised in State College, Pennsylvania, along with her two brothers. Growing up in the epitome of a small-town, college-town, where everyone knows everyone else, and you can still go back six years later and know at least ten people everywhere you go, my roommate returned from a wedding in town this past weekend with reports of a heartbroken population. She describes intimate details and memories of Jerry Sandusky, whose family sat three pews in front of her own every Sunday at church. She remembers attending talks put on at fundraisers and functions to prevent drug and alcohol abuse by youth, put on by her father and Sandusky. She remembers meeting his six foster children time and again in youth group, and watching Penn State earn the title “Linebacker U” as a result of Sandusky’s brilliant defensive strategy. Now everything has changed – the man who she, and most of her society, grew up idolizing (right behind head coach Paterno), betrayed and shamed the pride of an apparently impeccable organization. It is one thing to hear about a case of sexual molestation on the news, but quite another to know literally every person involved.
Perhaps the most heart-wrenching fact for residents of State College, on top of the horrific deeds of Jerry Sandusky, has to do with its connection to the administration at Penn State University, especially the football program. My roommate, given the opportunity, absolutely raves about Penn State’s image as one of the “cleanest” Division I programs in college athletics. The football program, Joe Paterno, and the university itself have always emphasized integrity, honesty, and living up to a higher standard. Joe Paterno’s values and administration have escalated him to the position of adored figurehead in the eyes of Penn State faithful who have grown accustomed to his winning, spotless, and honorable regime. All members of the coaching staff, including Paterno and Sandusky, have been leaders in the community as well as on the field – every long-time resident of state college has a personal memory or connection with the school, the program, and the coaches.
In regards to recent events, this image has drastically changed. Many reports have come to light concerning a shocking and completely repugnant potential contribution of the Penn State administration, the President of the university, and even by Joe Paterno himself to the longevity of Sandusky’s indiscretions. In a nutshell, much evidence exists supporting a widespread and drastic cover-up of initial reports of incidents concerning Sandusky, even of potential payoffs of several employees to keep everything quiet. Accusations range from a choice not to report eye-witness accounts to police, to the promotion of previous witnesses, to the disappearance of the DA who oversaw the case originally… the reputation of Penn State, its administration and affiliates, has been fully tarnished.
The huge public outcry against the football program and the university for this vast betrayal of trust, whether or not the allegations turn out to be true, has already had disastrous effects on the town, the school, the citizens, and the future. My roommate’s brother, an alumni and longtime resident, will not discuss the situation. Her father openly states that “as a father, a man, and a member of this community, [he] is disgusted” (Jim Fay, 2011) – a sentiment echoed by many peers and neighbors. There is widespread talk of refusing to participate in typical traditions at this Saturday’s game. Players have already begun to seek transfers, recruits for the coming years are backing out – Joe Paterno’s retirement now seems forcibly inevitable. It is truly amazing how the actions of one man can completely unravel the tightly woven fabric of the State College culture, and to hear the effects of the rapid deterioration of an influential leader, as they have been experienced first-hand. The betrayal and trust of followers more loyal and committed than most has been shaken at its core; my roommate’s home may never have the same “feel” again.
With regards to the title of this blog, a bit of irony – Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story is an autobiography published in 2001, written by Jerry Sandusky, covering his accomplishments and lifelong achievements working with and providing aid to young children from broken or abusive homes….