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Sandusky conviction doesn't end harm of scandal

There are still questions to be answered, retribution to be made and justice to be served

David Haugh

In the Wake of the News

9:15 PM CDT, June 23, 2012

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For all the innocence he stole, there is not a prison term long enough or a hell hot enough for Jerry Sandusky, convicted of child sex abuse.

Nor is it enough to make Sandusky alone pay for the complete institutional failure at Penn State University over at least 15 years that resulted in America's worst college sports scandal ever.

They can take Sandusky away in handcuffs so he can shower with inmates the rest of his life, but it is not enough to turn our attention away from this tragedy because the satellite trucks left Bellefonte, Pa.

Important questions loomed Friday night long after a jury found the disgraced, despicable former Penn State assistant football coach guilty of 45 of the 48 counts accusing him of sexually assaulting 10 boys.

Why wasn't Sandusky stopped sooner? Why was Sandusky protected so much that emails between former Penn State President Graham Spanier and vice president Gary Schultz reportedly revealed the men considered it "humane'' not to share their suspicions with police? How many young lives could intervention have saved from abuse?

Everybody around Sandusky and the dysfunctional Penn State football program failed those victims: Spanier, Schultz, former athletic director Tim Curley, the late Joe Paterno, ex-assistant Mike McQueary, other staff members. Nobody did enough.

Consider testimony during the trial from "Victim 4,'' who recalled showering in the Penn State football facility with Sandusky behind a curtain separating them from former assistant coach Tom Bradley. According to Victim 4, Bradley stayed in the shower, "until everything was done.''

Why did so many men at Penn State accept seeing boys in the shower?

I wonder how many other silent witnesses to Sandusky's inappropriate behavior have grappled with regrets recently. I wonder how Sandusky's wife, Dottie, sleeps at night.

Overwhelming evidence suggests Sandusky is a sick man. But Penn State let his disease infect its campus. Federal authorities eventually plan to try putting away ex-leaders who looked away. The NCAA needs to respond just as aggressively.

Only five schools ever have received the NCAA death penalty — a one-year ban of an athletic program — for a lack of institutional control. I could understand NCAA President Mark Emmert making Penn State the sixth for letting a football culture kill its conscience.

If the disturbing narrative of Sandusky's serial abuse doesn't depict an institution lacking control, I don't know what would. The way Sandusky consistently used his power as a Penn State football coach to abuse children and avoid getting caught represents something far more serious than student-athletes improperly receiving cash or favors.

The man hailed as a Nittany Lion hero used the Penn State football locker room as his predatory lair. He took boys to the sauna and gave them gear and tickets for games in exchange for keeping his dirty little secret. He relied on his football celebrity to establish the Second Mile charity that, in theory, benefited at-risk boys but in reality was a front to widen Sandusky's circle of potential victims.

He got away with it for years despite whispers and raised eyebrows because he was Jerry Sandusky, the defensive coordinator once considered Paterno's heir. He got away with it because Penn State officials simply watched as football became more important than anything else, blinding normally responsible people with vision.

Now nobody ever can look at Penn State the same way, and I hope that includes the NCAA.

Though NCAA rules were originally intended to eliminate improper benefits and establish academic standards, they also seek to uphold the integrity of every sport and institution. Penn State's enabling of Sandusky broke people, not rules, but isn't that worse?

This wouldn't be the NCAA opening the door to punish every school whose coach gets arrested for DUI. This would be a reform-minded association punishing unprecedented levels of neglect and abuse of privilege with a hammer.

"The circumstances are uncharted territory in many ways," Emmert acknowledged in a letter last November informing Penn State of an NCAA inquiry.

Could these circumstances be any more unsettling?

Reports of the nine-day trial gave America a tour through the darkest corners of a pervert's mind. If you had the stomach to follow it, you cringed at every graphic detail. If you were a parent, you took mental inventory of every adult in your children's lives. If you were human, the guilty verdict restored your faith in people.

Through it all, Sandusky's victims displayed courage he lacked. It was the ultimate act of Sandusky's cowardice refusing a plea agreement that forced young men to relive their private shame in a public courtroom as strangers listened.

Outside the courthouse Friday night when the news broke, bystanders cheered. But there were no winners. And this is no ending.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh