No Joy in Penn State, But a Flicker of Hope

No one knew exactly what was going to happen.

But as the Penn State Nittany Lions walked onto the field at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, the applause that grew in the stands was loaded.

How do you clap for a program led by a man who knew that one of his coaches molested at least one kid in his locker room? How do you cheer for a program that in this past week showed that at least two coaches and university leadership knew that Jerry Sandusky was an active child molester, but yet they did nothing? How do you cheer for a school whose students just a few days ago rioted when they were informed that football coach Joe Paterno, or “JoePa,” was being fired for his role in the Sandusky scandal?

JoePa, like many of the Catholic priests and members of the hierarchy who covered up abuse in the Catholic Church, was an “idol with clay feet”–one who crumbles because of a lack of moral foundation. The Penn State community and college football fans throughout the nation worshipped the long-time coach. Yet when the truth about his inaction and cover-up of the Sandusky case came to light, we all learned that Paterno put a football program and a coach above a child who had been sodomized. In the sports world with its handy clichés, we saw “the man behind the curtain,” and we realized that we had been duped.

As we Catholics who fight for priest-abuse survivors know too well, every Catholic diocese has its own JoePa. In Philadelphia, that man is Msgr. William Lynn, currently under criminal indictment for child welfare endangerment. In Boston, that man was Cardinal Bernard Law, who allowed dozens of child predators to have access to thousands of children.

And in every diocese where these men worked, there are parishioners who loved and admired these priests. Men and women confessed their sins to them; sought spiritual advice and guidance from them; asked them to perform their marriages and baptize their children; placed their relationship with God in these men’s hands. The betrayal is tremendous. These parishioners saw “the man behind the curtain,” and they, too, were sickened by what they saw.

Unlike Penn State, however, the Catholic Church has done little to nothing to clean house and hold accountable those who hurt children or covered up for them.

Fortunately, there is hope–at least for Penn State. Clapping did fill the air in Beaver Stadium on Saturday. Was it stubborn support of a popular team? Or misguided support of a fallen idol? Judging by the number of fans wearing blue for child-abuse awareness, I’m leaning toward a third answer: Fans were applauding for a school that, while wracked with scandal, has started to rid itself of coaches and administrators who hid abuse.

We can only hope that the fans in Beaver Stadium keep clapping for the victims, keep clapping for accountability and keep clapping to make sure that what happened to Sandusky’s victims never happens to another child.

Photo of Penn State warm-up from Flickr user acaben under Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. Patricia Pierson says:

    I agree that the Penn State sex abuse scandal is horrific BUT you say Joe Paterno did nothing when he became aware of Sandusky actions. That is NOT true. Coach Paterno followed Penn State University and Pennsylvania state policy and procedure on reporting child sexual abuse. He reported it to the athletic Director Curley and vice president of finance Shultz. Shultz also oversaw the University police. This is exactly what PA law states must happen. People who do not work or have not worked with the “system” in PA think Joe Paterno could have done more. The police department that has the jurisdiction over PSU is the University Police. He reported what he was told( hearsay) to the overseer of the university police. Other than becoming a full time advocate and vigilante there was nothing Paterno could have done.

    I have been a MS reader and subscriber since it’s debut. I spent over 15 years working as a therapist and advocate for victims of sexual violence in the state of Pennsylvania. I attempted to report many cases of child sexual abuse to police departments (If the perp is not acting in a caregiver role) and the Child Protective Services (if the perp is acting in a caregiver role). Childline (CPS) will take the report as long as the child has told you or you witnessed the abuse. The police officer who takes the report of any crime in Pennsylvania has the authority to decide if he/she thinks a crime has been committed. I believe the majority will take it further before deciding no crime has been committed.

    MS is perpetuating the witch hunt of the wrong people by writing that Joe Paterno did not report the sexual abuse by Jerry Sandusky. He did exactly what was he was supposed to do. For the record I am a PSU alumni, (D.Ed, MPA) but does not figure into my belief that Paterno did report it and there was nothing else he could have done.

    It pains me that MS has written that Peterno did nothing because I have always felt as strongly about Ms as I do about Joe Paterno being wronged.

    • While Paterno did what he was required to do by the law, he certainly had not only the opportunity but the moral obligation to do more. He could have exerted his considerable influence to remove Sandusky from Second Mile. He could have urged the man who did witness the rape to call the police. He could have, but he chose to protect the institution instead of the children. His lack of action led to even more children being raped, and I applaud the University’s actions.

  2. John Shuster says:

    JoePa didn’t follow through after he knew that a sex crime had likely been committed against a child by his coach. There is good reason why he has retained legal counsel. He hoped it would go away, but it has come back to tackle him hard.

  3. That ten year old boy was raped.. sodomized by an older man.. i don’t know why people appear to minimize what was done to him with language that is weak..

    Thanks for this great article.. Joe Paterno and all the rest including politicians, lawyers, police et al. should have fought hard. and gone to outside authorities if there was a silence conspiracy..

    i found when reporting childsexual abuse that i sometimes had to go to the fbi and or doj and major news leaders to tell the truth.. and get help.. it takes what it takes..many times i found that the people who are paid and make their living off child sexual abuse are often the ones who are most negligent..

  4. I saw the riot on tv before I ever knew what they were rioting about. As I learned more about the story I was shocked! I understand they love the coach, but what he did was WRONG! I think the students aren’t looking at the bigger picture because this is a horrible thing for a child to go through!

  5. Judy Jones says:

    Joelle… you just keep going, and going..and going…

    Please don’t let your battery run down..ok? J

  6. Patricia Pierson says:

    No one is minimizing what Jerry Sandusky did. So many people think they know what others should have done.

    1. Did you read the grand jury report?

    2. Have you ever reported child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania?

    3. Do you know what Pennsylvania laws, policies and procedures are concerning child sexual abuse?

    4. Do you realize that PSU University police has jurisdiction over the entire Penn Sate campus and State College police would have told any one reporting any crime that it had to be reported to the police in the jurisdiction where it happened?

    5. realize that once a crime has been reported and the police or DA decide that there has not been a crime committed the police will not reopen the case?

    6. In order to report the perp again one would have to witness or be told by the victim of another newer act of sexual violence by the same perpetrator?

    7. Everyone might know that someone is sexually abusing a child(ren) but if it has been reported and the DA and police say it is unfounded there is nothing one can do except become a vigilante.

    And now Franco Harris, former PSU and NFL player has been fired from his job at Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Washington .PA because he spoke out in support of Joe Paterno. And you are going to say this is not a Witch Hunt?

    In my 15+ years experience as a therapist and advocate for victims of sexual violence (in PA) I heard many stories from male victims, about what for some is considered a rite of passage for young adolescent boys, about how they were made to perform oral sex on a circle of older young men. How High school football teams haze new players by making the “newbies” perform oral sex on the varsity players or being raped anally by the older players. There many other forms of sexual violence perpetrated on adolescent boys in our society and there are many many males who would not see themselves as perpetrators for what they have done in the name of rites of passage.

    Our male culture needs to take a very hard look at itself and says I can’t change the past but I can be part of the change that will make certain young boys will NOT be sexually abused while society calls it rites of passage or HORSEPLAY!

  7. I don’t think anyone in the US would say forced oral sex or sodomy is a rite of passage, maybe your thinking of another society than the United States. I think most will call it rape, just as it is. If the boys/men committing the crime call it a rite of passage they are just doing so to minimize the offense they know to be illegal & wrong.

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