Jennifer D. Wade Journal

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Blog posts July 2012

Collateral Damage

So, I've been wanting to write my latest Sandusky/Penn State-related post for a while. But, stuff kept happening that would impact what I wrote. And, by "stuff," I mean the release of the Freeh Report, the taking down of the statue, and the NCAA issuing sanctions against PSU athletics. Oh, and the new Batman movie came out!

I went to see The Dark Knight Rises the first day it came out. Not a midnight showing, but an early afternoon showing. You can read my review HERE, but the gist of it is that, in my opinion, it's good but not as good as The Dark Knight.

As I was watching Batman save Gotham yet again, I was struck by how much damage he does along the way. Sure, the city and millions of people survive, but the rebuilding process will take even longer because Batman takes out quite a few buildings along the way. We never saw people in those buildings, but I assume there were some, so now they're gone, too. Collateral damage in the name of the greater good.

The collateral damage is also extensive in Batman Begins, the first film in the trilogy from director Christopher Nolan. In one sequence, Batman drives the Batmobile over and through anything he wants. He's racing back to the Batcave because it's his only chance to save his childhood love, Rachel Dawes. If the streets of Gotham are left in shambles, so be it. Collateral damage in the name of the greater good. Of course, with Batman continually treating Gotham as his own personal proving ground, it's no wonder the police hate him.

Anyway, with all this collateral damage fresh in my mind, I couldn't help but make a comparison when the NCAA lowered the boom on Penn State and its football program.

To backtrack slightly, the NCAA announced its sanctions on July 23, less than two weeks after the release of the so-called FREEH REPORT. The report, compiled by a team led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, basically says that the leaders of Penn State, including head football coach Joe Paterno, knew Jerry Sandusky had problems, but put the interests of the university and the football program ahead of the children. The report also criticizes the Board of Trustees for rubber-stamping whatever those leaders wanted. The Board of Trustees, which had commissioned the Freeh Report, quickly bowed to the report's findings and vowed to make changes.

The report itself is 267 pages. There's also a seven-page document of the prepared remarks Freeh made at the news conference. Those remarks are a good summary, but it's the exhibits in the complete report that provide the damning evidence. Those exhibits include emails which make it clear that Paterno knew what was going on from the time Sandusky was first investigated in 1998.

Of course, there are people who don't want to believe the findings in the report or who feel that the report doesn't tell the whole story. The Paterno family, for instance, put out a statement saying that Sandusky fooled a lot of people and that the family has now commissioned its own investigation. I say OK, but be careful what you wish for.

As for the NCAA, it apparently doesn't need any other investigations. It took one look at the Freeh Report and decided that Penn State had to be punished and that the punishment must be swift and hard. So, 11 days after the Freeh Report, the NCAA announced HARSH PENALTIES for PSU: A $60 million fine; no postseason football play for four years; a reduction in football scholarships for four years; five years probation for the athletic department; and, all wins from 1998-2011 are vacated.

It's the vacating of those more than 100 wins, I think, that has the most people upset. Paterno is no longer the winningest coach in Division I college football. The punishment is directed at Penn State and Paterno's legacy, but what about all those players who won all those games? Well, no you didn't, even though you have the T-shirts and stuff that say you did. Talk about collateral damage.

The other thing that has many people riled up is the way Penn State handled the removal of Paterno's statue from outside Beaver Stadium. The statue was removed one day before the NCAA sanctions were announced. Clearly, PSU - or at least Pres. Rodney Erickson - knew what was coming. In fact, a few days after the sanctions, the Trustees expressed displeasure that Erickson didn't consult them before agreeing to the sanctions. The trustees backed down after Erickson told them it was either those sanctions or a four-year death penalty, which would have meant no football at all.

The statue was removed early on a Sunday morning. Despite Penn State's promise of a new era of openness, crews put up a tarp-covered fence around the site. Onlookers did not have a clear view of the work. On the other hand, I assume the tarp also stopped pieces of concrete from flying into the crowd. At any rate, as the statue was covered by a tarp carried away to an "undisclosed location," the only visible part of the statue was Paterno's raised arm and a finger pointing as if to say, "We're #1!" (The photo is courtesy of Christopher Weddle and the Centre Daily Times)

Penn State President Rodney Erickson has said that the statue had to go because it became a painful symbol for victims of abuse. I can't speculate as to why charges were not filed against Sandusky in 1998. But when reports of abuse surfaced again in 2001, university leaders seemingly did little about it. How many children might have been spared had these people done their due diligence and reported the allegations to law enforcement?

Those children, I think, are the real collateral damage of a culture that viewed protecting the Penn State brand as the greater good.

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