“The Lead” on ESPN’s crawl Sunday morning during SportsCenter highlighted LSU’s narrow win over Alabama in the rare No. 1-vs.-No.2 showdown. Then it noted that No. 3 Oklahoma State barely held on to beat Kansas State. It mentioned that Oklahoma beat Texas A&M but lost the nation’s top receiver to an ACL tear and it mentioned that the NBA Lockout is in its 129th day.
Much like a fumbled snap, the Worldwide Leader dropped the ball.
The biggest story in college football got swept under the rug because Saturday’s lights need to be shined elsewhere. The most tragic kind of scandal was ignored Saturday because the money-making machine that is young men grinding on grass was running at full steam.
Swept under the rug. Ignored.
These are same phrases you are – eventually – going to hear from talking the talking heads on TV, from the pages of newspapers and magazines, from the screens of your device of choice used to describe the adults in power at Penn State University.
And this is why we have a problem much bigger than a highly respected and successful coach raping a 10-year-old boy in Penn State’s locker room.
Saturday, while defense ruled in Alabama and offense reigned on a football field in Stillwater, Okla., a grand jury report was brought to the public’s attention by The New York Times, the Washington Post and Yahoo! Sports.
It gave graphic and horrid accounts of sexual abuse committed by Jerry Sandusky, Penn State’s long-time defensive coordinator who was at one time in line to be Joe Paterno’s successor. It described charges levied against athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president for finance Gary Schultz for perjury and failure to report to authorities what they knew of the allegations, as required by state law.
And neither ESPN nor CBS – which aired Saturday’s big game – spoke hardly a word of it. (To be fair, the Associated Press report was on ESPN.com, but the story was not mentioned on air.)
There are three major problems here:
1.) Over a course of 15 years, Sandusky, now 67, is alleged to have sexually abused eight boys. He used his position at Penn State to leverage relationships and to open a charity organization, “The Second Mile,” to assist boys from underprivileged backgrounds.
2.) At the very least, four people from Penn State – the GA that originally reported seeing Sandusky raping his second known victim, Paterno, Curley and Schultz – knew of one incident that occurred in the showers of the Penn State football locker room in 2002. None of these four people called the police. None attempted to identify the 10-year old boy. Instead, they protected Sandusky and simply made him turn in his keys to the locker room.
3.) On Saturday, Nov. 5, ESPN and CBS protected college football and simply led its fans to good ol’ action on the field and away from that nasty scandal stuff.
This is not just a scandal; it’s a deal-breaker. This is not just about an old man raping little boys; it’s about a nation that has deeply troubling priorities. This is not about missing a story; it’s about entertainment trumping the truth.
And it is all about money.
Sandusky faces 40 charges stemming from the sexual abuse of eight boys. These are eight boys who have come forward. Sandusky had access to the boys through his organization. The boys came from troubled and/or poor backgrounds. He was supposed to help them. Instead, he betrayed them in a way that is indescribable in words. At the very least, he crushed their souls.
There is nothing more disgusting than what Sandusky did and it is difficult to talk about.
But Penn State – which has recently ridden around on the shoulders of its integrity as one of the very few big-time college athletic programs without major NCAA violations – has an ugly history of not talking about disturbing situations.
In 2007, Penn State’s women’s basketball coach Rene Portland resigned amidst a scandal and anti-discrimination lawsuit.
Portland, a two-time national coach of the year and one of just nine coaches to win more than 600 games, had allegedly created a hostile environment towards lesbian players – or players Portland perceived to be lesbian. Complaints had been levied, but action was not taken, even after the school instituted a non-discrimination policy in 1991.
The environment came to light after Jennifer Harris, who had been kicked off the team, filed a federal lawsuit. The university conducted an internal review and found and reported that Portland created a “hostile, intimidating, and offensive environment” based on Harris’s perceived sexual orientation. Portland was fined $10,000 and required to attend diversity training sessions.
A documentary called “Training Rules” describes the environment through the words of Penn State players during Portland’s 28-year reign. While not subjected to the horrific sexual abuse the little boys are alleged to have endured, these young women went endured a mental abuse that the administration just swept under the rug. Ignored.
Why? Maybe because it was uncomfortable to talk about. Or maybe because Portland was so damn successful.
Why wouldn’t have Paterno and Curley called the authorities? Because it was uncomfortable? Because he was so successful? Or because it would tarnish a cash cow of a brand: PENN STATE FOOTBALL?
This brings us to problem No. 3. Why wouldn’t these major media organizations give the audience the story on a timely basis?
Because, deep down, fans don’t want to be uncomfortable. Because fans want to believe in success. Because fans pay.
Fans pour into stadiums despite scandals. Fans want to believe Jim Tressel is still a “good man.” Fans force ADs’ hands to fire coaches who go 8-4 for too many years.
But what do fans do with this?
This isn’t tattooes-for-jerseys. This isn’t Camaros-for-commitments. Right?
No, it is not.
But it is just the next logical step in an environment that is corrupt and wholly hypocritical.
It is the next logical step for an entity that is based on the lie of amateurism.
It is the logical evolution of an environment that slaps the wrists of rule-breaking players and coaches, that rewards coaches with millions of dollars while the rest of the state’s educational system crumbles, that uses catchy slogans to mask racism and sexism.
And we are all complicit. We watch. We attend. We cheer. We eat from ESPN’s spoon. We sweep under the rug. We ignore.
I am doubly complicit as both a former fan and former sports writer.
A 60-year-old coach raped a 10-year-old boy in the showers of the Penn State football locker room.
What else do we need to hear before we change?