Two Years Later, Penn State Can't Shake the Jerry Sandusky Fight

Tim Goral's picture

Two years after the first public report of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse investigation, it appears that Penn State has been divided into two distinct camps.

Essentially, one group says a very bad thing happened on our campus, and whoever you hold responsible for it, collectively we didn’t see it or stop it, and we need to own that and make sure it never happens again.

The other camp sees it differently.

What Jerry Sandusky did was terrible, they agree. But what university leaders did in reaction to the scandal - tearing down much of what Penn Staters held dear because of our shared shame – may have been worse.

From the NCAA penalties against the football team to the criminal charges against former President Graham Spanier, it has created unconscionable collateral damage that must be repaired.

For many, the sore point remains the firing of Joe Paterno, the head football coach for 46 years and the man who truly was the face of Penn State.

On Web sites, in court filings and in person, the combatants mostly talk right past each other these days. And from an outsider’s vantage point, it is looking very much like a war for Penn State’s soul.

The Penn State Board of Trustees' meetings, lately, have been like battlegrounds.

On March 15, for example, five of Paterno’s former players spoke during the public comment period, all variously roasting the board for what they termed failures of leadership. Paterno was fired days after Sandusky's arrest, and died less than three months later after battling lung cancer.

“Accepting the NCAA sanctions to save public face so we can quickly distance ourselves from the situation helps no one,” said Mickey Shuler, a former Nittany Lion great who lives in Marysville.

“I know who we are,” Shuler said. “I’m concerned that the board has forgotten.”

They demanded a renewed fight against the NCAA penalties and a formal apology to the Paterno family, or mass resignations.

But several other speakers, who did not get nearly the same degree of attention at the time, actually commended the board for its leadership, and called on them to stay the course.

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