Never have I been more at a loss for words than I have at the unfolding of events at Penn State this past week. But as a recent alum of Penn State, the Schreyer Honors College and The Daily Collegian, these are my thoughts as best as I can think to say them:
It is unbelievable to me, after reading the gut-wrenching 23-page grand jury findings, that anyone could for a moment forget whose story this is and why it is important: the alleged victims. My thoughts and concerns are first and foremost with them and their families.
And then, unthinkably, it was worse than the contents of the grand jury report.
Mike McQueary said he saw a boy being sexually assaulted by Jerry Sandusky in a locker-room shower. Then a 28-year-old graduate assistant, McQueary told his father, then Joe Paterno, then Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President of Business and Finance Gary Schultz. Penn State President Graham Spanier was told of the allegations, too.
And then, nothing happened.
McQueary moved up the ranks to become an assistant football coach. As of Thursday night, he retained his job, though a statement from the Penn State athletic department said he would not be at Saturday's game "due to multiple threats made" against him. Paterno was fired over the phone, and Spanier was ousted, after a Wednesday evening Board of Trustees meeting. Curley and Schultz have been charged with perjury in connection with the grand jury report. Curley remains employed by Penn State.
The one district attorney who supposedly heard child abuse allegations against Sandusky and didn’t pursue them—Ray Gricar—went missing in 2005 and was declared legally dead last year. He (or his body) was never found. A former Penn State janitor who reportedly saw Sandusky performing oral sex on a young boy never reported the incident to police and now cannot be a witness because he suffers from dementia. That alleged victim's identity is still unknown.
For those accusing the media of “sensationalizing” this story and all that surrounds it, I don’t think that’s possible. This is as independently sensational as it gets. According to the grand jury findings, a respected figure in college sports founded a charity specifically to help children, then abused them. The two most powerful men at Penn State, once alerted of this possibility, continued to preach “success with honor” and sing “may no act of ours bring shame” while Sandusky continued to roam the Penn State campus as recently as last week.
As a Daily Collegian reporter, I was in a unique position. As a reporter, I operated independently from the university, but as a student was very much a part of the Penn State community.
The Penn State football program is far from flawless. I probably knew more than most about their off-the-field issues, whether it was groups or individual football players finding themselves in trouble. But I was, and still am, a Penn State football fan. I was a season-ticket holder all four years in college, I camped out at Paternoville before the Michigan game in 2008 and drove to Florida to watch the team win the Capital One Bowl last year. And despite the off-campus issues, Paterno was more than a football coach.
Admittedly, I was never Spanier’s biggest fan. The stories in the paper didn’t tell you how long I waited outside his office for a comment before I saw him exit another door and ran through Old Main to catch him by his car. But I also knew how much he did for the university and how well respected he was by other academic leaders. He was quirky: He did magic tricks and played the washboard. His signature is on my diploma.
To be clear, Paterno and Spanier had to go. Their choices, both years ago and in statements made this week, made it so. But it doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
I would love to believe I would have done something differently if I were in McQueary’s position, or in Paterno’s or Spanier’s or Curley’s or Schultz’s. But I don’t know because I have no way of knowing. I don’t know what it’s like to watch someone I look up to abusing a child, as it says in the grand jury report. I don’t know what it’s like to hear that someone who’s been my friend for 30 years has been accused of doing such.
I also know I don’t have all the answers and that this is an ongoing investigation. All the facts are not adding up. There are still some major missing links in all of this, and it only adds to the knot in my stomach.
Adding also to that knot are the responses from students, alumni, media and people who have absolutely nothing to do with Penn State.
The riots Wednesday night following the announcement JoePa had been fired were shameful. Seeing alumni burn their diplomas is embarrassing. Penn State’s response from a public relations standpoint is humiliating, and the focus of the national media is troubling. Nearly all the context surrounding the allegations has been provided by the local news outlets in and near State College or by Penn State alumni writing about it.
Each development in this horrific story breaks my heart in a different way.
Disappointment, disbelief, disgust, anger and embarrassment aren’t strong enough words to describe what I’m feeling, but I can tell you some combination of those emotions has left me feeling physically ill all week. And despite this week’s revelations, my time at Penn State has not changed. I am proud of my time there, and I’m proud of what I’ve done since then.
After work on Friday, a friend and I will drive to State College for the Nebraska game as we’ve been planning to do for months. We’ll stay with our brothers, who are both seniors there. But for the first time in my life, I’m not excited to go back. Because I’m going back to a place I’ve never been to before.