Thursday, May 01, 2014

Hard To Believe, But Penn State Steps In It Again. And Again.

One of the more consequential if under-reported aspects of the O.J. Simpson double murders and criminal trial was that, his proclaimed innocence notwithstanding (and the glove didn't fit because the defense team had shrunk it), bad things kept happening to the people who stood by him, something that I wrote about as one of the zillions of journalists covering this neutron bomb of a story but few other scribes noticed.  Now the same thing is happening to Penn State University, and I must say it is well deserved.

I do not equate O.J. snuffing out the lives of two people with a former Penn State coach sodomizing youngsters in the football team's shower room and the ensuing cover-up by legendary head coach Joe Paterno and university administration bigs, but as far as depraved behavior goes, there . . . well, let's just say that neither would have been included in what a jailhouse informant told me was The Juice's favorite book in prison during the trial -- the inspirational bestseller When Bad Things Happen To Good People.

Penn State has tried hard to put the scandal unleashed by former coach Jerry Sandusky's unquenchable pedophilia behind it, including putting big bucks into settling with his victims, contributing to charities who help people like his victims, and swallowing some pretty tough NCAA sanctions, the most expensive of which was not the $60 million monetary penalty or football scholarship restrictions, but imposing a four-year ban on post-season play for its storied football program, which has two years to run, and vacating all of the team’s considerable number of victories from 1998 to 2011.

The university seems to have tried hard to get it right since the scandal broke in 2011, but trying hard has not been good enough in the cases of its two recent major hires.  In fact, the same kind of myopia that gripped Happy Valley in the years that Sandusky's perversions were more or less an open secret seems to have made an encore.

To wit, Penn State:

* Hired Eric Barron, president of Florida State, to lead it into a scandal-free era although star quarterback Jameis Winston, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy and lead the Seminoles to the 2013 national championship, is the target of a rape allegation brought by a student that just won't go away.  This is because nobody who wears a badge or an academic robe seems to have taken her seriously.  (Winston was arrested just this week for walking out of a supermarket without paying for crab legs and crawfish, but I digress.)

While there is a kind of numbing regularity to college athletes getting caught up in zipper-related allegations and due process taking a walk as a result, the Winston case has taken on a particular pungence following publication of a story last month by Pulitzer Prize winner Walt Bogdanich in The New York Times that found the Winston case was whitewashed by both police and Barron's administration, which allowed Winston to keep playing.  Neither cops nor college promptly investigated either the rape accusation or a witness's admission that he had videotaped part of the encounter.

* Hired Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin although his program was embroiled in a nasty rape case involving five of his players.  The Nashville DA has said Franklin is not accused of any wrongdoing, but recent news stories paint him in an unflattering light, including reports that he and a program fitness trainer contacted the victim of the alleged rape to explain "that they cared about her because she assisted them with recruiting."

Attorneys for one of the defendants also say that at some point, "Coach Franklin called her in for a private meeting and told her he wanted her to get fifteen pretty girls together and form a team to assist with the recruiting even though he knew it was against the rules. He added that all the other colleges did it."

A lot of people believe that Paterno was neither villain nor saint. I held to that view after the initial revelations that Sandusky was a serial pedophile and that the university and possibly Paterno himself had engineered a cover-up. But with the drip, drip, drip of further revelations and release of a damning report by former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, I changed my mind.
"Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims," said Freeh, who oversaw the  investigation belatedly ordered by the university's board of trustees. "The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized."

National championships do not counterbalance sexual abuse, and Paterno’s accomplishments and legacy no longer matter to me.  Florida State's never did.  (At least Florida State has never claimed to be an academic powerhouse, which Penn State arguably is.)  Meanwhile, it may just be a coincidence that Penn State and Florida State are on a list of 55 colleges and universities released Thursday by the Obama administration that are under investigation for their handling of sexual assault complaints.

Penn State stands by its decisions in both the Barron and Franklin cases.  Natch.  But you have to asked yourself, what did Barron and Franklin know?  When did they know it?  And what did they do about it?  And are the alleged victims of Franklin's players and Barron's star quarterback being thrown under the (team) bus?

Don't hold your breath waiting for answers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm on your team, but there's a constant sense that poor Paterno got a bum rap to end his time on earth among us mere mortals. I've been similarly amazed at all that's turned up in the wake of the apparent non-vetting of the successor team, administratively & athletically, on campus.